Like the previous sonnet, Sonnet 38 contrasts the selfishly lascivious youth and the adoring, idealistic poet. The poet appears pitifully unable to contemplate his life without the youth, who remains physically distanced from the poet. The poet's emotional reliance on the young man dominates the sonnet. For example, the youth provides the inspiration for the poet's verse: "How can my Muse want subject to invent / While thou dost breathe." The youth is even hailed as the "tenth Muse," generating ten times the inspiration of the other nine. Ironically, the poet demeans the worth of his own verse not only by acknowledging his complete reliance on the young man but by admitting that any poet could write exceptional poetry were the young man the poem's subject matter.
The poet basks in his good fortune, but he is not optimistic about the success of his verse: "If my slight Muse do please these curious days, / The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise." He continues to bear all of the responsibility for the relationship's success or failure, but he seems to be so wholly submerged in his affections for the young man that he risks losing sympathy for his plight.