Musick to heare, why hear’st thou musick sadly, Shakespeare: Summary & Analysis

Sonnet 8: "Musick to heare, why hear’st thou musick sadly" is a Shakespearean sonnet that explores the theme of unity and harmony in music, paralleling it with the idea of love and relationships. The speaker addresses someone who listens to music with a sad demeanor and questions why they don't find joy in something that is meant to be joyful. The poem uses music as a metaphor to convey the concept of harmonious relationships.

Sonnet 8: "Musick to heare, why hear’st thou musick sadly"

Original Text

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lovest thou that which thou receives not gladly,
Or else receives with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire and child and happy mother
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: ‘thou single wilt prove none.’

Modern Translation

Music, why do you listen to music sadly?
Pleasures don't clash with pleasures; joy delights in joy.
Why do you love that which you don't receive happily,
Or else receive with pleasure what troubles you?
If the true harmony of well-tuned sounds,
Joined together in marriage, offends your ear,
They're just gently scolding you, who confound
The different parts that you should bear alone.
Notice how one string, like a sweet partner to another,
Strikes against each other with harmonious arrangement,
Resembling father, child, and happy mother
Who all in one, sing one pleasing note:
Whose silent song, being made of many, yet seeming as one,
Sings this to you: 'if you remain single, you'll bear no fruit.'


Sonnet 8: "Musick to heare, why hear’st thou musick sadly" uses music as a metaphor to convey the idea of harmony and unity in relationships. The poem questions why someone listens to music with a sad disposition, emphasizing that joy complements joy and that one should embrace the harmonious aspects of life rather than focusing on discord.

Critical Analysis

The sonnet uses the metaphor of music to explore the concept of unity and harmony in relationships, suggesting that like harmonious musical sounds, relationships should be enjoyed with joy.

The speaker questions why someone would listen to music sadly and why they would reject or take pleasure in something that brings them annoyance.

The poem suggests that if one struggles to appreciate the harmonious blending of well-tuned sounds, they are failing to understand the beauty of unity and the importance of bearing one's part in a relationship.

The image of strings in musical instruments striking each other in a harmonious way is used to illustrate how individuals in a relationship should complement and support each other.


  • Harmony and Unity: The poem emphasizes the importance of unity and harmony in relationships, paralleling it with the harmonious blending of musical sounds.
  • Value of Joy: The poem suggests that joy complements joy, and that individuals should embrace the joyful aspects of life and relationships.
  • Communication: The poem addresses the importance of clear communication and understanding within relationships, both in music and in life.


  • Inquiry: The poem presents a questioning tone, as the speaker asks why someone would approach music and relationships with a sad demeanor.
  • Encouragement: The poem encourages the listener to embrace joy, unity, and the harmonious aspects of relationships.

Literary Devices

  • Metaphor: The metaphor of music represents harmonious relationships and the blending of individuals' roles within them.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of the "s" sound in "sweets with sweets," "sings this to thee thou single wilt prove none," creates a soft and melodious rhythm.

Discussion Question

How does Sonnet 8: "Musick to heare, why hear’st thou musick sadly" use the metaphor of music to convey the importance of unity, harmony, and joy in relationships? How does the poem suggest that embracing joy and understanding one's role in relationships leads to a more fulfilling and harmonious life?

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