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 untutor’d 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 suppress’d.
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 flatter’d be.
The sonnet continues the contradictions of the previous one. In 137 his heart believes one thing, (that she is his alone), but knows that it is not true, while his eyes also, seeing a certain fact, refuse to acknowledge that it is true. Here the poet insists on believing something which he knows to be untrue. The poem hinges on the various meanings of ‘to lie’: the obvious one of telling untruths, and the less direct one of deceiving oneself; ending with a a third meaning of ‘to sleep with’, ‘to have sex with’. This gives the more realistic motivation for lover and beloved behaving as they do to each other, and lying in their hearts for comfort and pleasure’s sake.
The opening line sets the scene by suggesting that there is a need to patch up the loving relationship, the woman having to swear that she is true, implying that doubt has arisen, and the poet having to pretend that he is younger than he is for fear of losing her. The basis for love is therefore flawed and the love between them mirrors the flaws in their characters. Nevertheless they seem to reach a plateau of relative contentment, and can almost enjoy the game of deception.
This sonnet and 144 were both printed in The Passionate Pilgrim, a collection of 20 poems which appeared in 1599, published by William Jaggard. It is generally thought to have been a pirated edition, unauthorised by Shakespeare, although the title page claims that it is “By W. Shakespeare.” Three lyrics from Love’s Labours Lost are included in the collection, the other poems being of uncertain authorship, although it is thought that some of the others might well be by him (e.g. Crabbed age and youth / Cannot live together.). Below is the version of 138 that appears in Jaggard’s book. Opinion is divided as to the relative merits of each version, but many commentators think that the Q version is an improved re-working of the original 1599 (or earlier) version.
When my love sweares that she is made of truth,
I do beleeue her (though I know she lies)
That she might thinke me some vntutor’d youth,
Vnskilful in the worlds false forgeries.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinkes me young,
Although I know my yeares be past the best :
I smiling, credite her false speaking tounge,
Outfacing faults in loue, with loues ill rest.
But wherefore sayes my loue that she is young ?
And wherefore say not I that I am old :
O, Loues best habit’s in a soothing toung,
And Age in loue, loues not to haue yeares told.
Therefore I’le lye with Loue, and loue with me,
Since that our faultes in louve thus smother’d be.