62. My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun: Sonnet 130: William Shakespeare

My wife is teaching sonnets, and in “helping” I completely ripped apart her lesson. We have been having a tiff about how much time she spends correcting (she’s a high school teacher) and how she is choosing students over family time by how she designs her course, assignments given and the detail of her corrective remarks.

For the record, I am a huge Nancie Atwell junkie and very inquiry based (compared to my peers). Much of what we do is set-up by me, and then they go, go, go. My wife is also very student centered, for high school, but her high standards forces her to fill in the gaps left by self exploration. Her projects have shorter time horizons.

She was sharing a site that talked about using “Green Eggs and Ham” as an introduction. At this time, I am sick of “entertaining” students and trying to convince them to learn. Like a pendulum, I at times try and be student-centered and relevant before swinging towards “just learn it” in attitude. I am currently in the latter.

My suggestion was to use those sonnets most often quoted to promote cultural literacy. I also suggested projecting a single sonnet and having them deconstruct it using a way that makes sense to them: visual, graph, table, graphic organizer, words on little slips of paper…. whatever. Then, they post their deconstructions on the wall for everyone to see. Students look at the products, and note which work for their brain. Finally, I suggest she project a new sonnet and have them use one of the techniques to “get” it. Discussion and analysis comes from the organizers.

In theory, by having them “do the work”, a central tenant of my teaching, they live the method of poetry analysis, construct personal meaning for the poem and understand why we teach poetry. People only understand poetry when it is up to their elbows and chaps their lips.

So, in seeking that perfect cultural poem I found this more interesting one. It mocks other love poems. Students will like it. It is, of course, one of the more famous sonnets; I suggest offering one which Shakespeare might have been mocking.

Of course, she has her own plan. I am sure it will work, but it’s not mine so it is, of course, slightly inferior. Ah, love.

Sonnet 130
My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun
William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.


3 thoughts on “62. My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun: Sonnet 130: William Shakespeare

Add yours

    1. From what I’ve read, the poem wasn’t about any particular woman, but was a satire of the sappy love sonnets popular at the time. The critic Patrick Crutwell argues it specifically mocked the Thomas Watson poem “Passionate Century of Love.”

      This Wikipedia article sums up what I’ve read and heard elsewhere: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonnet_130

      Personally, the entry reminded me of what a genius Shakespeare was. Not only did he create a cracking satire, but he also created a sonnet that, in the end, was better that those he mocked. While the others are left to the anthologies, his is one of the most quoted in the canon.

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