Shakespeare Sonnet 119 Analysis: What potions have I drunk of siren tears

Shakespeare sonnet 119 Analysis, summary, theme and modern English translation

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This is a short summary of Shakespeare sonnet 119. Continue reading for complete analysis and meaning in the modern text. For the complete list of 154 sonnets, check the collection of Shakespeare Sonnets with analysis. It is highly recommended to buy “The Monument” by Hank Whittemore, which is the best book on Shakespeare Sonnets.

Shakespeare Sonnet 119 (Original Text)

What potions have I drunk of siren tears,
Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it hath thought itself so blessèd never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted
In the distraction of this madding fever!
O benefit of ill, now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruined love when it is built anew
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.
So I return rebuked to my content,
And gain by ills thrice more than I have spent.

Shakespeare Sonnet 119 Modern Text (Translation)

Shakespeare sonnet 119, modern English translation

-via SparkNotes

Shakespeare Sonnet 119 Analysis

Continuing from sonnet 118, the poet asks what medical tonic has he drunk that seemed seductive and sweet “What potions have I drunk of siren tears,” but were actually produced in hell “Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within,” that induced doubt within the poet over the things he was hopeful about and making him hopeful over what should be worried about “Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears,” and which has made himself lose even though he expected to win “Still losing when I saw myself to win!”

He asks what mistakes have his heart made “What wretched errors hath my heart committed,” at a time when he thought himself blessed more than ever “Whilst it hath thought itself so blessèd never!” Even his eyes have been strained and almost popping out of its sockets “How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted” because of the maddening fever “In the distraction of this madding fever!

Then he laments saying that evil brings benefits “O benefit of ill, now I find true” and that good thing can be made even better through the influence of evil “That better is by evil still made better;” and when one ruins or spoils love and again rebuilds it from the beginning “And ruined love when it is built anew” it becomes fairer more beautiful and stronger “Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.”

Now that he has been scolded over his mistakes he returns to the person who makes him happy “So I return rebuked to my content, “and his evil deeds have returned him thrice the amount that he has spent “And gain by ills thrice more than I have spent.”

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