Sonnet 138

By William Shakespeare


When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust,
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
  Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
  And in our faults by lies we flattered be.


face mask TASKS

Understanding the sonnet

  1. What is the apparent contradiction in the poem?
  2. What does the speaker (the male) in the poem lie about?
  3. What does the female lie about?
  4. What is a euphemism? If you do not know, look it up in your dictionary. Can you find a euphemism in this poem?
  5. Is there any playing on words in this poem? Comment on it. (To help you answer this, look up “homonym” in your dictionary.)


Which of these interpretations do you think suit the poem?

  • a picture of cynical partners
  • a picture of how all lovers flatter each other
  • a recognition of the absurdity of the demand for truth-telling at any cost
  • that the male wants to lie, even to himself, not merely have the woman lie to him