Sonnet 40: Take all my loves

William Shakespeare

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all:
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call—
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
Then if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blamed if thou this self deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robb’ry, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
    Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
    Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 40 is one of my favorites, not only because my favorite musician Rufus Wainwright used the lyrics in a song (though this song is fuckin’ awesome and certainly doesn’t hurt), but because it’s one of the most sensual.

The key to this one is understanding the double meaning of the word “love.” I first picked up on this here, “Then if for my love, thou my love recievest, I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest.” This idea translates, roughly, ‘I love you, so I won’t blame you if we have sex.’ Hot.

This cast a new light for me on the first four lines and made me realize that when the bard says, “take all my love,” he does mean All. In this poem “love” is not only from the heart, but from the body.  This makes the first fours lines mean, roughly speaking, “once we fuck will you have more love than you started with? No, because I already had all my love and pretty damn truly.”

The poet immediately forgives the gentle thief for taking all his ability to love, even though, he does not trust his love. He fears that the object of his affection will deceive him with another by willfully tasting what “thyself refusest” and he readily admits that this lover can hurt him more than any enemy.

My favorite line of the poem is “lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows/ Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes.” This poet’s self-awareness astonishes me. He knows he’s in love with a bad person. His lover is someone who kills him with spites and the poet, depending on how a reader interprets “ill well shows”, is either painfully aware that his lover’s darkness is plainly visible or he’s so blinded by love that the bad appears to be good. For all those warning signs, this poet knows he cannot look at his lover as an enemy.

It’s actually not a very healthy relationship…

Here’s Rufus’s song:

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