If Thou Must Love Me, Let It Be For Nought (Sonnet 14) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community.
We are thankful for their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
Written by Timothy Sexton
Rather than symbols in the traditional sense of one thing standing for another, this poem is constructed of a series of motifs which build one after another to create a portrait of the type of woman the speaker does not wish to be to her beloved. She fills in the blanks so that the portrait is almost a paint-by-number image, which would actually be quite appropriate since the woman she does want to be cannot be so systematically created. “Her look” is, for example, a motif that establishes that her is not eager to be loved simply because someone finds her attractive.
Having rejected being merely the object of a physically aesthetic appreciation, she then proceeds to build upon this motif of what she doesn’t want to be by making it clear she doesn’t want to be loved by anyone who views her as the embodiment of the supposed idea of shy femininity.
A Trick of Thought
Having established that she is not a woman too shy to express opinions, she must now move further into that reality. She immediately moves to stop any man who is not looking for a wilting flower from thinking that just because she happens to express opinions that he shares, this means they are compatible. Intellectually compatibility—just like physical attractiveness—is subject to change and therefore no better a reason for love.
This phrase represents the motif of what she doesn’t want to be in the sense of not wishing for a man to confuse having a sympathetic nature towards circumstances with feeling of love. After all, everyone has circumstances capable of producing a deep sympathy in someone else, but what happens when the circumstances change? What she is really discussing her is closer to empathy than sympathy, but the actual phrasing in the text aligns closer to the latter than the former. Nevertheless, the point is the same: love is sometimes confused with other deeply felt emotions and one must be careful lest circumstances negative impact those emotions.
The use of the word “certes” does qualify as symbol. It is not related to the construction of the motif of what kind of a woman the speaker does not wish to be. In fact, it is one of the few examples in the poem of what kind of woman the speaker actually is. Even at the time the poem was composed, “certes” was already an outdated way of saying “certainly.” That the speaker uses it endow is with symbolic insight that connects with the speaker’s vague desire to be loved “for loves’s sake only.” It symbolizes that she has a timeless concept of what love means, though others might describe it as old-fashioned or as outdated as “certes” itself.
Update this section!
You can help us out by revising, improving and updating
Study Guide for If Thou Must Love Me, Let It Be For Nought (Sonnet 14)
If Thou Must Love Me, Let It Be For Nought (Sonnet 14) study guide contains a biography of Elizabeth Browning, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.