The poet acknowledges that the rival poet displaces him in the youth's favor. Feeling discouraged by the superiority of the "better spirit" of the rival poet, whom he describes throughout the sonnet using nautical imagery, the poet complains of being "tongue-tied," unable to compete with his rival's exalted verse.
The poet's phrasing is courteous, but the exaggerated language indicates a serious mood. One detects an ironic purpose in the poet's devotion in the face of rejection when he sarcastically compares his verse to the rival poet's as "My saucy bark, inferior far to his." He forgives his own abject behavior with the excuse that love for the young man is his sole reason for living and the sole reason for his destruction: "Then if he thrive, and I be cast away, / The worst was this: my love was my decay."