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If the dull substance of my flesh were thought, If the heavy substance of my body was thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way; Hurtful distance would not bar my way to you;
For then despite of space I would be brought, Because then, in spite of this distance, I would be brought,
From limits far remote where thou dost stay. From frontiers far away to where you are.
No matter then although my foot did stand It would not matter then if my feet did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee; Upon the earth's farthest point away from you;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land For swift thought can overleap sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be. As quickly as one can imagine that he is there with you.
But ah! thought kills me that I am not thought, But ah! Thinking of you kills me because I am not as quick as thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone, To leap over the long miles between us when you are gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought But, because I am composed of earth and water*
I must attend time's leisure with my moan, My complaint (moan) must wait until it is convenient for time,
Receiving nought by elements so slow Receiving nothing from these slow elements
But heavy tears, badges of either's woe. But heavy tears, signs of each other's grief.

But that...wrought (11): The poet mentions earth and water specifically (the two heaviest elements), rather than air and fire (the two lightest elements) to illustrate his profound melancholia brought on by the absence of his lover.

But heavy tears...woe (14): In keeping with the heavy elements motif, he combines "heavy tears." Tears represent water, and heavy (or slow) tears represent the earth; i.e., they are produced by a man who is made of earth. Sonnets 44 and 45 should be read together as they are complimentary thoughts on the pain of separation. The absent lover is a topic that Shakespeare covers in many of sonnets and is a typical theme in Petrarchan sonnets written by other great poets. Sidney's Sonnet 38 from Astrophel and Stella is a prime example:

This night, while sleepe begins with heauy wings
To hatch mine eyes, and that vnbitted thought
Doth fall to stray, and my chief powres are brought
To leaue the scepter of all subiect things;
The first that straight my fancys errour brings
Vnto my mind is Stellas image, wrought
By Loues own selfe, but with so curious drought
That she, methinks, not onley shines but sings.
I start, look, hearke: but in what closde-vp sence
Was held, in opend sense it flies away,
Leauing me nought but wayling eloquence.
I, seeing better sights in sights decay,
Cald it anew, and wooed Sleepe again;
But him, her host, that vnkind guest had slain.

Many believe that, in Sonnet 44, Shakespeare is distraught over the absence of the Earl of Southampton, who was Shakespeare's patron for a time and perhaps his lover as well. The structure of the poem is interesting in its own right. The poem "is very close to a technically invaild form of the hypothetical argument. If A, then B. Not A. Therefore not B. 'If flesh were thought, I would be with you. But flesh is not thought, so I am not.' The premise is stated in the first quatrain, repeated and hid in negative form in the second quatrain; the third quatrain states the second premise, and the couplet adds the real point, the tears, beautifully fitting quantity and speed to meaning: 'Receiving naught by elements so slow/But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.'" (Ramsey 120).


Landry, Hilton. Interpretations in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Berkeley: U of CP, 1964.
Lee, Sidney, Sir. A Life of Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan, 1916.
Ramsey, Paul. The Fickle Glass: A Study of Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: AMS Press, 1979.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. A.L. Rowse. London: Macmillan, 1964.
Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare's Sonnets. Ed. Tucker Brooke. London: Oxford UP: 1936.

How to Cite this Article

Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 44. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the information) < >.


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