This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Sonnet 64, Shakespeare

What is this to after weep? Is it like "I am sad to hear your father's death?"

  • I'm not entirely sure [hence I'm commenting not answering] but I think translated into modern langauge it would be: This thought cannot ever die But it cries over when it thinks of who I love and if they were lost. Not entirely sure but that's my interpretation Aug 6, 2014 at 15:52
  • 2
    Shakespeare's language is worlds away from modern English.
    – Pharap
    Aug 6, 2014 at 19:06

3 Answers 3


You have parsed this correctly. An infinitive clause subordinated to a clause expressing a strong emotion usually expresses the cause of the emotion:

I am sad/saddened/distressed/sorry/dismayed  to hear of your father's death.
He was angry/angered/enraged  to find his orders had not been obeyed.
They were amazed/astonished/thunderstruck  to discover the town still thriving.
John was greatly relieved  to find his wallet where he left it.

This is also true when the head clause expresses an emotional reaction rather than a state:

I weep   to hear of your father's death.
He rejoiced  to see his enemy brought low.
The little dog laughed  to see such sport.

  • 1
    "...and the dish ran away with the spoon."
    – mc01
    Aug 7, 2014 at 0:13
  • 1
    Couldn't just leave that hanging there :)
    – mc01
    Aug 7, 2014 at 0:13

This language is both poetic and archaic. So you get a double dose of unusual and complicated syntax.

First off, I expect there's an enjambment happening in that line. Treat it as one sentence:

This thought is as a death, which cannot choose but weep to have that which it fears to lose

The thought (and by association, the speaker--"which" is much less specific in poetic usage) "cannot choose but weep"--that is, he can't help but cry--at having something precious that will inevitably be lost.

The infinitive introduces the circumstance which causes the speaker to feel that way. He has something he fears to lose, so he can't help but cry. This is the same construction as "I was happy to see you" or "I couldn't help but smile to think of him running playfully through the field." The infinitive is there to introduce the cause or circumstance of the earlier emotional response.


For convenience, I have interpreted the passage with the speaker as the subject.

This thought makes me feel like dying,
because I cannot choose to do something other than to weep
because of my desire to keep the thing that I do not want to lose.

To "weep to (do something)" can mean to feel that one must (do something), because if they do not, then it would cause sadness or some sense of loss. It's like saying that you would "rather die than give something up".

  • you are non native? your answer diverges from the answer I chose. Yours is a wrong answer.
    – user8153
    Aug 7, 2014 at 10:14

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