Sonnet CXXX, by 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 damasked, 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.

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Sonnet 130 is definitely one of Shakespeare's most noted sonnets. This sonnet can be described as an ironic love poem because of the bizarre way the piece ends. Shakespeare's use of irony, image, and exaggeration are all skillfully formed within the boundaries of iambic pentameter, and the splendid mixture of these elements make it a remarkably rich and beautiful sonnet.

The irony of the poem is not revealed until the couplet at the end, where after the speaker has cruelly railed and complained of how awful his mistress is, he states how much he actually loves her. During the first three quatrains, the speaker makes such exaggerated statements as, "Coral is far more red than her lips' red," and "In some perfumes there is more delight/ Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks." The reader can only imagine how grotesque the speaker's girlfriend is, until the end, where he changes the entire direction of the poem by stating, "And yet, I think my love as rare/ As any she belied with false compare." These ironic last lines makes the reader realize that everything written before is merely exaggeration, meant to stress the point that although the speaker's mistress is not some fantastic "goddess," he still loves her with all his heart.

Shakespeare's use of imagery in the sonnet is strong and clear, and he utilizes several of the five senses when describing his mistress. The use of senses in poetry is important, because they often play the biggest part in imagery. The sense of sight is used most often, with lines such as, "I have seen roses damasked, red and white," and "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun." The sense of smell is used in the lines, "In some perfumes there is more delight/ Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks." The sense of sound is used as well, with "I love to hear her speak, yet well I know/ That music hath a far more pleasing sound." With lines such as these, the image the reader pictures is a woman who is not bright eyed, whose breath stinks, and whose voice is not very pleasant. The only senses not employed are touch and taste, but the three that are used create an impressive image of what the speaker wants the reader to grasp. The colors mentioned in the sonnet help develop even better imagery; red, white, black, and even "dun" (brown) all appear in the sonnet. The strong colorful imagery helps define a mistress who is greatly lacking in beauty, which is the poet's chief purpose in the three quatrains of the sonnet.

The exaggeration in the poem is immense, but the use of such great exaggeration is important to emphasize the meaning of the poem in the end. The speaker is simply pointing out that his mistress is not the most beautiful woman in the world, and yet he still loves her. The speaker does not actually mean to say that the breath of his mistress truly "reeks" or that her breasts are "dun," but he uses this exaggeration to stress the idea that she has flaws, and that she is not perfection. She is not a goddess on a pedestal; she is tangible and she does have imperfections, and he loves her for them. The exaggerated lines of her ugliness are only a tool to make the piece more astonishing in the end, where the irony of his love reverses the entire bearing of the poem.

In the poem's fusion of irony, exaggeration, and imagery, the true beauty and essence of the sonnet can be found. The piece is potent with its words, emphasizing the idea that real love resides much further than in physical appearance alone. A love poem such as this is certainly not everyday.

With all due respect to the commentary above, I tender my reading:

Yes, it's true, her eyes are nothing like the sun: they aren't twin fusion reactors spewing forth all manner of electromagnetic rays. Her hair is not like black wires, which are stiff and cold, and coral is rough and has lots of little holes with little animals in it.
Snow is white, cold and even if she painted her breasts white, they wouldn't look like gentle swells that myriad crystals form. Her cheeks aren't the blueish magenta of a wild rose. No, her breath isn't perfume, she may speak and walk, but she doesn't make the sound of a viola di gamba, nor does she levitate. 

This isn't because she's ugly. Think about how ugly and artificial and downright scary she would be if she were all these things. If she actually spoke in music, she'd be hard to understand if she asked for a kiss. She floats over, her lead blindfold ready. The little coral animalcules wave encouragingly…She breathes some Chanel No. 5 your way...

She isn't anything at all like that. She's better! Even in Shakespeare's day, all these similes had been thoroughly mined as to be essentially meaningless. Like the flattery of the two evil sisters in King Lear, they were the stock in trade of anyone writing a love poem: to say otherwise was to invite the kind of reaction that we find in the WU above. Like Cordelia, however, the last two lines aren't flattering lies, they're true. It's important that this comes very late in the Sonnets, this is, like Lear, the work of a mature man.

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