Summary and Analysis
In contrast to the concluding couplet in the previous sonnet, in which the poet questions the young man's moral character, now the poet surmises that the youth may be inconstant without knowing it. In this startling reversal, the poet acknowledges the essentially good nature of the youth, who is too beautiful to harbor evil impulses: "For there can live no hatred in thine eye." However, in the first quatrain, the poet asserts the strong possibility that he is being duped; no matter, he reasons, for the young man's beauty is more important than his moral character — a shallow and narcissistic assertion that the poet criticized the youth for believing in earlier sonnets.
All pretense is abandoned, and the poet accepts a certain amount of falseness in the relationship, living as the unsuspecting — yet knowing — victim of the youth's deceit. Because this hypocrisy affects only the youth's moral character but not his beauty, the poet will love him "Whate'er thy thoughts or thy heart's workings be." He acknowledges the risk he is taking in continuing to love the youth's appearance without being certain just how virtuous the young man is: "How like Eve's apple doth thy beauty grow / If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!" Here, the poet is likening the young man to Eve's apple — a symbol of outward perfection but internal vice: The young man has a beautiful appearance, but he may be morally worm-eaten with vice.