What's he saying?
"Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view / Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend;"
Your outward appearance lacks nothing that cannot be put right.
"All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due, / Uttering bare truth, even so as foes commend."
Everyone says so, and even your enemies have to admit it's true.
"Thy outward thus with outward praise is crown'd; / But those same tongues, that give thee so thine own,"
Therefore, your outward appearance is praised; but the same people who praise you for it,
"In other accents do this praise confound / By seeing farther than the eye hath shown."
Hint at the opposite, as far as your inner self.
"They look into the beauty of thy mind, / And that in guess they measure by thy deeds;"
They judge your inner beauty by your actions;
"Then, churls, their thoughts, although their eyes were kind, / To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:"
So although they praised your outward beauty, they judge your inner self harshly:
"But why thy odour matcheth not thy show, / The soil is this, that thou dost common grow."
How come your inner self doesn't match your appearance? Because you are common.
Why is he saying it?
Sonnet 69 continues the discussion of public praise and the opinion of the world of Sonnets 67 and 68. However, here the question of the fair lord's morality is raised, and it is implied that his inner self is not as beautiful as he seems superficially. The conclusion of the final couplet is ambiguous: "thou dost common grow" could refer either to the fair lord's association with common people in alehouses, or to his use of prostitutes (common women).
Lines 1-6 praise the outward beauty of the fair lord, using public opinion to support the idea that there is no questioning the extent of the beauty. In line 3, "All tongues, the voice of souls," does not suggest that spoken words can be directly linked to feelings of the soul. This idea would be contrary to the dissembling that is so characteristic of Shakespearean plays. Rather, it focuses attention on the inner rather than the outer: here the distinction is made in other people, and in the second half of the sonnet it will be applied to the fair lord.
The meanings of certain words in this sonnet have various interpretations. The word "accents" in line 7 implies the use of words to criticize the youth's inner beauty, but lines 8-12 suggest that this criticism only exists in thoughts. Thus "accents" can be understood to mean "undertones," or "suggestions." In line 11, "Then, churls, their thoughts, although their eyes were kind," the word "churls," which means boorish peasants, could refer either to the people who praised the fair lord's appearance but question his inner beauty, or to the thoughts themselves, which would be personified by "churl."
This sonnet presents a tension between the eye and the thoughts. The eye is personified in line 8, when the people are confounded "By seeing farther than the eye hath shown;" it is as if the eye has looked upon the fair lord and reported back to its owner, so that an opinion can be created. But the thoughts "look into the beauty of thy mind," judging the fair lord by his actions, and then, "although their eyes were kind," they must draw an unfavorable conclusion about the fair lord's character.
The metaphor of a rose recurs throughout the sonnets; for example, Sonnet 54 contrasts the sweet rose that is the fair lord with "canker blooms." However, here the focus is on "the rank smell of weeds," another theme that is common throughout Shakespeare's sonnets and plays. The final couplet of Sonnet 94 has a similar point to Sonnet 69: "For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; / Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds." Even though the fair lord's beauty is rightly praised, it is his actions that prove his true character.