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O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.
The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns and play as wantonly
When summer's breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo'd and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
   And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
   When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.


LIV. This Sonnet continues and expands the sentiment of liii. 14. Beauty is made more beautiful by inward worth. The beauty of the rose is thus enhanced by its sweet odour from within. In this it excels the "canker-blooms," which no one prizes either when they are alive or after they have faded. But roses, fading and dying, yield sweet perfumes. And so, when the beauty of Mr. W. H. passes away, his truth and fidelity will be preserved, "distilled" in the poet's verse.

8. The canker-blooms have full as deep a dye. If, as seems to be the case, the "canker-bloom" is the dog-rose, then, as Steevens remarks, there is an inconsistency in the statement of the text, since the dog-rose is of a pale colour, and, moreover, is not entirely without odour.

6. Perfumed tincture of the roses. The roses, with their perfume and colour. "Tincture" is equivalent to the "dye" of the previous line.

11. Die to themselves. The "canker-blooms" die neglected and unregarded.

14. Vade. So Q. Dowden, adopting this form, refers to Passionate Pilgrim, x. i, "Sweet rose, fair flower, untimely pluck'd, soon vaded."

How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < >.

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According to Wordsworth ... The famous poet William Wordsworth wrote that "the appropriate business of Poetry, (which, nevertheless, if genuine, is as permanent as pure science), her privilege and duty, is to treat of things not as they are, but as they appear; not as they exist in themselves, but as they seem to exist to the senses, and to the passions." According to Wordsworth, Sonnet 54, for its "merits of thought and language" is one of Shakespeare's greatest poems.


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