Shakespeare Sonnet 120 Analysis: That you were once unkind befriends me now

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This is a short summary of Shakespeare sonnet 120. 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 120 (Original Text)

That you were once unkind befriends me now,
And for that sorrow which I then did feel
Needs must I under my transgression bow,
Unless my nerves were brass or hammered steel.
For if you were by my unkindness shaken,
As I by yours, you’ve passed a hell of time,
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
To weigh how once I suffered in your crime.
O that our night of woe might have rememb’red
My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you as you to me then tendered
The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits!
But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.

Shakespeare Sonnet 120 Modern Text (Translation)

Shakespeare sonnet 120 modern English translation

-via SparkNotes

Shakespeare Sonnet 120 Analysis

The poet tells the fair lord that when he once was cruel and unkind to the poet, that is benefitting the poet now “That you were once unkind befriends me now,” and for the amount of sadness the youth made him feel “And for that sorrow which I then did feel” he was forced to bow to the ground under the weight of his misdeeds “Needs must I under my transgression bow,” and to no do so he would have had to be made of steel instead “Unless my nerves were brass or hammered steel.”

The et tell the fair lord that if he was upset by the poets unkindness “For if you were by my unkindness shaken,” to the extent of how the poet felt by the youth treatment of him “As I by yours, “ then he presumes the youth has endured hell “you’ve passed a hell of time,” and he calls himself a tyrant without taking any time and consideration “And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken’ to remember how the poet suffered at the hands of the fair lord at one time and how it felt “To weigh how once I suffered in your crime.

He says he wish he remembered the earlier sorrow “O that our night of woe might have rememb’red’ which would make him understand how deeply sadness hurts someone “My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits,” and that reminder would have made them apologize to each other “And soon to you as you to me then tendered” which would be like a balm on a wounded heart “The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits!”

He tells the youth that his transgression against the poet is payment “But that your trespass now becomes a fee;” for what the poet has done to the fair lord earlier. So now their offenses cancel out each other and they are even “Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.”

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