Iambic Pentameter: The poem uses an iambic pentameter, a rhythmic scheme used in sonnets. The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEF GG, and is split into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet. It contains 10 syllables per line, with syllables alternating between unstressed and stressed when spoken aloud. This gives the sonnet the effect of sounding like a regular love poem, but upon closer examination of the words used we can tell that the poem and its intentions are completely different.
The Final Couplet: In Sonnet 130, the persona describes the woman with unflattering terms such as “black wires grow on her head” and “in the breath from that my mistress reeks”. However, even though he points out her numerous flaws he still declares his love for her, suggesting that he embraces all her traits and characteristics and loves her nonetheless. This is further exemplified in the final couplet of the poem, “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare; as any she belied with false compare. This sudden contrast, despite being contradictory to the previous lines of the poem, is significant in showing that regardless of her flaws he is still wholly in love with her. Throughout the poem, the persona compares his mistress to that of an imaginary, perfect woman. However, in the last lines we see that the persona chooses the real woman with all her imperfections over the “goddess” he has never seen. Rhyme Alternating rhymes: The rhyme scheme is ABABCDCDEFEF GG. “Sun” rhymes with “dun”, “red” and “head”, and so on, before ending with “rare” and “compare”.
This enhances the image of a seemingly dull woman that the persona describes – the woman in question is said to have breasts which are dun, suggesting that she is sexually unattractive. Her lips are contrasted with that of coral, “Coral far more red than her lips’ red”. Red is the colour of sensuality, and thus the persona is stating that she is not a sensual woman. The effect that this rhyming scheme gives is to contrast the persona’s definition of beauty as a part of nature and the woman’s flaws.
Third Quatrain and Final Couplet: The persona declares that he would “love to hear her speak”, despite her voice being less beautiful than music. This is the first time in the poem that praise has been conferred upon the persona’s mistress. He then goes on to compare the woman with that of a goddess, the highest being and his imperfect mistress. The final lines introduce a change in the rhyming scheme, with a couplet ending the rhythmic three quatrains.
The couplet is used to introduce a new idea, that despite the woman’s flaws, the persona ‘s love for her is higher than that of the heavens. This highlights a key theme of the poem – regardless of the woman’s physical flaws and looks, the persona is able to see past her looks and still be beautiful in his eyes. This is significant because in the Shakespearean Era, the role of women was to please man with a beautiful face and body, and here we see Shakespeare expressing his love for a woman who did not possess many of these qualities.