O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?

After the lovely Sonnet 116 and Sonnet 130, I present to you another love poem.  Despite being a popular Shakespeare poem, this is not a sonnet of any kind. It only has twelve lines and a sonnet needs fourteen. Of course, this poem isn’t even written in iambic-pentameter! It’s rhyme scheme is AABCCB-DDEFFE.

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then, come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

This poem is about Shakespeare telling a mistress that she should stop waiting for the right man to come along and sweep her off her feet and instead settle for him because he’s there right now. “What’s to come is still unsure: / In delay there lies not plenty;”. Besides, he says, maybe they will turn out to love each other anyway, “Journeys end in lovers meeting”.
This is a song, to put it simply, where a man is wooing a woman.
He feels that she is not paying attention to him and so is trying to convince her that he is her own true love.

He is telling her not to keep looking around for a love in a different place, because he’s right in front of her.

He is telling her not to delay, because we only have the present for certain. We don’t know what the future will bring.

So the longer she delays the greater the chance that she will lose the sweetness of her youthful love with him.

In the film of the play, “Twelfth Night: or What You Will”, directed by Trevor Nunn (absolutely wonderful director of Shakespeare–his Macbeth is the best I’ve seen) he has Feste the clown use it subtly to bring out the feelings between Maria and Sir Toby and to kind of encourage them to quit playing around with their feelings and do something about it. When Maria joins in with Feste there’s a kind of unsaid sense that she feels her youth slipping by without love and that she does love Sir Toby.

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