Shakespeare's Top 3 Love Sonnet Examples

Sonnets 1, 18 and 73 make this list

Shakespeare Sonnets
Shakespeare Sonnets. Maica/Getty Images

What are Shakespeare's best examples of love sonnets? The bard kickstarted the modern love poetry movement with a collection of 154 love sonnets – many of which are still used on Valentine's Day and in marriage ceremonies. This roundup includes three of his best: Sonnets 1, 18 and 73.   

These sonnets are highly cited and regarded as some of the best love poems ever written. So, even if you are not a poetry fan, you may recognize some of the texts.

Sonnet 1 – 'From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase'

Sonnet One is deceptive because, despite its name, scholars don't believe it was necessarily the bard's first. Addressed to the so called “fair youth,” the poem includes a sequence in which the poet encourages his handsome male friend to breed so that his beauty may live on through his children.

The full text is as follows:

FROM fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light'st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

Sonnet 73 - 'That Time of Year Thou Mayst'

As his output of sonnets grew, Shakespeare’s treatment of love became more complex, making his poetry more powerful. In Sonnet 73, the poet is still addressing the "fair youth," but the poet is now concerned about how age will affect their love for one another.

The speaker hopes that their love will grow with time, proving it’s potency and endurance.

The full text is as follows:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sonnet 18 - 'Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?'

Sonnet 18 is the most famous of Shakespeare’s sonnets and is perhaps the most famous love poem of all time. The sonnet points out that true love is eternal and will not fade like the seasons. In other words, the poet's love is better than a summer’s day because it won’t disappear with the changing of the seasons; it’s here to stay!

The full text is as follows:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.