Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 41: "Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 41: "Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits"

The speaker in sonnet 41, from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, does an about face regarding his unity with his poetic creations. As he dramatizes the nature of genuine poetic qualities, he contrasts them with the mere laying on of decoration. Because the speaker's only interests are in the genuine stuff of poetry, he now reasserts his unity with his poetry. He has made it clear that his only duty is to produce genuine art. This speaker thus assures his readers that he would never afford himself mere poetic license, which would result only in fabrication and even folly.

This talented speaker is making a promise to this audience that he will pursue only genuine feelings as he creates his little dramas. Because he remains so connected and dedicated to creating the best art possible, he can assure his audience of his authentic intensions. He despises anything fake, plastic, and concocted—the kind of poetry produced by poetasters. This speaker has taken stock of his own abilities and has vowed to himself to remain focused and never to descend into the attitudes of the libertines, who litter the literary landscape with their dreck and drivel.

Sonnet 41: "Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits"

Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits
When I am sometimes absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assail’d;
And when a woman woos, what woman’s son
Will sourly leave her till she have prevail’d?
Ay me! but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forc’d to break a twofold truth;—
Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 41

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 41 is directly addressing his poem, dramatizing the differences between genuine poetic qualities and those that merely masquerade as poetic qualities. He also declares his unity with his art.

First Quatrain: The Loveliness of Intent

Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits
When I am sometimes absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art.

Sonnet 41 finds this clever speaker conversing with his sonnet again, as he reports the phenomenon that sometimes when the poet is not practicing his art, his thoughts commit "pretty wrongs." The musing speaker does not clearly specify the wrongs, but the point is that even when he is "absent from [the poem’s] heart," its loveliness of intent follows him.

Most poets and artists find themselves from time to time asserting that they are always looking for something that will contribute to their next creation. Practicing aestheticism tempts the artist to anything the artist may deem beautiful. This speaker hints that he is not a beginning poet but has for many years been allured by art’s aesthetic temptations.

Such temptations, nevertheless, must be tempered by reason and deep thinking. This speaker thus asserts that he will continue to treasure profundity over the superficiality of decorative art. He is determined to keep his art genuine, reflecting true human feelings and not the plastic, bombastic fake emotions that mar amateurish attempts to create poems.

Second Quatrain: Most Attractive Qualities

Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assail’d;
And when a woman woos, what woman’s son
Will sourly leave her till she have prevail’d?

The speaker then reveals the qualities that most attract him—gentleness and beauty. He insists that any mother’s son would do the same. The gentle and beautiful slope of art wins the artist’s heart. It is as natural as night following day. If the speaker tried to resist such temptation, it would cause him to feel bitter. His life would sour until he returned again to his God-given attractions and practiced his in-born talent. This talented speaker can prevail only in following his intuition that leads him always back to his love of creating his poems.

Natural talent must be nurtured and cannot be hurried. The fruit of natural talent will always be obvious to the audience/viewers of the particular art, whether it be poems, plays, songs, or other artistic endeavors. This speaker’s goal is to appeal only to those who are capable of appreciating genuine art; he cares little for sycophants and other sheep-like followers. Even as he seeks a genuine audience, he remains more dedicated to genuine art than to wide-spread publicity.

Third Quatrain: Poem Over Poet

Ay me! but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forc’d to break a twofold truth;—

The speaker then addresses the notion that the poem might garner more attention than the poet. The beauty and the "straying youth" of the poem might seem to "chide" the speaker or even the poem itself; thus, such a chiding would count as one of the "pretty wrongs that liberty commits." The speaker thus insists that the poem is forced to tell the truth, even as it appears to "break a twofold truth." He then asserts that whoever would "lead thee in their riot even there" is the one who would cause the muse to break with truth, but the twofold truth is delayed until the couplet.

The speaker continues to hold to the notion that the poet should never become more interesting or more important to readers than his works. If that happens, it likely means that the poet’s life has become that of a libertine, and not a life of discipline. The libertine would thus produce superficial art, hoping to reach as wide an audience as possible. The disciplined artist would produce quality art, even if his appeal remains limited.

The Couplet: The Poem's Proper Condition

Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.

If the muse breaks truth with the poem, her beauty would tempt the speaker to address the necessary correction to bring the poem back to its proper condition, and if the beauty is merely superficial, the poem would not only be untruthful to itself, but it would also prove false to the speaker. The speaker has on every occasion convinced the reader that he could never allow such an atrocity; therefore, the unity of poet and poem is recaptured.

The speaker knows that he and his poem must remain united, but at times, he must appear to make an important distinction between his goals and society’s superficial goals. Decoration merely for the sake of decoration must be eschewed at all costs. This speaker knows that only genuine natural beauty can enhance and therefore deepen his dramas. He is essentially making a vow, composing a contract with his readers that he will remain so connected to his poems that he would never allow himself to falter in pursuing the genuine, the beautiful, and the true.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles