Shakespeare's Sonnets - Shakespeare's Sonnets
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In this first of many sonnets about the briefness of human life, the poet reminds the young man that time and death will destroy even the fairest of living things. Only if they reproduce themselves will their beauty survive. The young man’s refusal to beget a child is therefore self-destructive and wasteful.
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But, as the riper should by time decease,
4His tender heir might bear his memory.
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
8Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
12And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be—
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.
The poet challenges the young man to imagine two different futures, one in which he dies childless, the other in which he leaves behind a son. In the first, the young man will waste the uninvested treasure of his youthful beauty. In the other, though still himself subject to the ravages of time, his child’s beauty will witness the father’s wise investment of this treasure.
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
4Will be a tattered weed of small worth held.
Then being asked where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say within thine own deep-sunken eyes
8Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use
If thou couldst answer “This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,”
12Proving his beauty by succession thine.
This were to be new made when thou art old
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.
The poet urges the young man to reflect on his own image in a mirror. Just as the young man’s mother sees her own youthful self reflected in the face of her son, so someday the young man should be able to look at his son’s face and see reflected his own youth. If the young man decides to die childless, all these faces and images die with him.
Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another,
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
4Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose uneared womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
8Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
12Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
But if thou live remembered not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.
The poet returns to the idea of beauty as treasure that should be invested for profit. Here, the young man’s refusal to beget a child is likened to his spending inherited wealth on himself rather than investing it or sharing it generously.
Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
4And being frank, she lends to those are free.
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
8So great a sum of sums yet canst not live?
For, having traffic with thyself alone,
Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.
Then how, when nature calls thee to be gone,
12What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
Which usèd lives th’ executor to be.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet compares the young man to summer and its flowers, doomed to be destroyed by winter. Even though summer inevitably dies, he argues, its flowers can be distilled into perfume. The beauty of the flowers and thereby the essence of summer are thus preserved.
Those hours that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell
Will play the tyrants to the very same
4And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
8Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness everywhere.
Then, were not summer’s distillation left
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
12Nor it nor no remembrance what it was.
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
Continuing the argument from s. 5, the poet urges the young man to produce a child, and thus distill his own summerlike essence. The poet then returns to the beauty-as-treasure metaphor and proposes that the lending of treasure for profit—i.e., usury—is not forbidden by law when the borrower is happy with the bargain. If the young man lends his beauty and gets in return enormous wealth in the form of children, Death will be helpless to destroy him, since he will continue to live in his offspring.
Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer ere thou be distilled.
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
4With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
8Or ten times happier, be it ten for one.
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee;
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
12Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.
This sonnet traces the path of the sun across the sky, noting that mortals gaze in admiration at the rising and the noonday sun. When the sun begins to set, says the poet, it is no longer an attraction. Such is the path that the young man’s life will follow—a blaze of glory followed by descent into obscurity—unless he begets a son.
Lo, in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
4Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
And having climbed the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
8Attending on his golden pilgrimage.
But when from highmost pitch with weary car
Like feeble age he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ’fore duteous, now converted are
12From his low tract and look another way.
So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,
Unlooked on diest unless thou get a son.
The poet observes the young man listening to music without pleasure, and suggests that the young man hears in the harmony produced by the instrument’s individual but conjoined strings an accusation about his refusing to play his part in the concord of “sire and child and happy mother.”
Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
4Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
8In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire and child and happy mother
12Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing;
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”
The poet argues that if the young man refuses to marry for fear of someday leaving behind a grieving widow, he is ignoring the worldwide grief that will be caused if he dies single, leaving behind no heir to his beauty.
Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye
That thou consum’st thyself in single life?
Ah, if thou issueless shalt hap to die,
4The world will wail thee like a makeless wife;
The world will be thy widow and still weep
That thou no form of thee hast left behind,
When every private widow well may keep,
8By children’s eyes, her husband’s shape in mind.
Look what an unthrift in the world doth spend
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;
But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,
12And, kept unused, the user so destroys it.
No love toward others in that bosom sits
That on himself such murd’rous shame commits.
This sonnet, expanding the couplet that closes s. 9, accuses the young man of a murderous hatred against himself and his family line and urges him to so transform himself that his inner being corresponds to his outer graciousness and kindness.
For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any,
Who for thyself art so unprovident.
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
4But that thou none lov’st is most evident.
For thou art so possessed with murd’rous hate
That ’gainst thyself thou stick’st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
8Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind.
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be as thy presence is, gracious and kind,
12Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove.
Make thee another self for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.
The poet once again urges the young man to choose a future in which his offspring carry his vitality forward instead of one in which his natural gifts will be coldly buried. The very exceptionality of the young man’s beauty obliges him to cherish and wisely perpetuate that gift.
As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st
4Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this, folly, age, and cold decay.
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
8And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish;
Look whom she best endowed she gave the more,
12Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.
As he observes the motion of the clock and the movement of all living things toward death and decay, the poet faces the fact that the young man’s beauty will be destroyed by Time. Nothing besides offspring, he argues, can defy Time’s scythe.
When I do count the clock that tells the time
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night,
When I behold the violet past prime
4And sable curls ⌜all⌝ silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
8Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard;
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
12And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ’gainst Time’s scythe can make defense
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
The poet argues that the young man, in refusing to prepare for old age and death by producing a child, is like a spendthrift who fails to care for his family mansion, allowing it to be destroyed by the wind and the cold of winter.
O, that you were your self! But, love, you are
No longer yours than you yourself here live;
Against this coming end you should prepare,
4And your sweet semblance to some other give.
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
⌜Your⌝ self again after yourself’s decease
8When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honor might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
12And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O, none but unthrifts, dear my love, you know.
You had a father; let your son say so.
As astrologers predict the future from the stars, so the poet reads the future in the “constant stars” of the young man’s eyes, where he sees that if the young man breeds a son, truth and beauty will survive; if not, they die when the young man dies.
Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck,
And yet methinks I have astronomy—
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
4Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well
8By oft predict that I in heaven find.
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
12If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.
In the first of two linked sonnets, the poet once again examines the evidence that beauty and splendor exist only for a moment before they are destroyed by Time. Here the poet suggests—through wordplay on engraft—that the young man can be kept alive not only through procreation but also in the poet’s verse.
When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
4Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheerèd and checked even by the selfsame sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
8And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay
12To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And, all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
Continuing the thought of s. 15, the poet argues that procreation is a “mightier way” than poetry for the young man to stay alive, since the poet’s pen cannot present him as a living being.
But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant Time,
And fortify yourself in your decay
4With means more blessèd than my barren rhyme?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens, yet unset,
With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers,
8Much liker than your painted counterfeit.
So should the lines of life that life repair
Which this time’s pencil or my pupil pen
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair
12Can make you live yourself in eyes of men.
To give away yourself keeps yourself still,
And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.
As further argument against mere poetic immortality, the poet insists that if his verse displays the young man’s qualities in their true splendor, later ages will assume that the poems are lies. However, if the young man leaves behind a child, he will remain doubly alive—in verse and in his offspring.
Who will believe my verse in time to come
If it were filled with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
4Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say “This poet lies;
8Such heavenly touches ne’er touched earthly faces.”
So should my papers, yellowed with their age,
Be scorned, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a poet’s rage
12And stretchèd meter of an antique song.
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice—in it and in my rhyme.
In a radical departure from the previous sonnets, the young man’s beauty, here more perfect even than a day in summer, is not threatened by Time or Death, since he will live in perfection forever in the poet’s verses.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
4And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
8By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
12When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The “war with Time” announced in s. 15 is here engaged in earnest as the poet, allowing Time its usual predations, forbids it to attack the young man. Should this command fail to be effective, however, the poet claims that the young man will in any case remain always young in the poet’s verse.
Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws
And make the Earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s ⌜jaws,⌝
4And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets.
8But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
12For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do thy worst, old Time; despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
The poet fantasizes that the young man’s beauty is the result of Nature’s changing her mind: she began to create a beautiful woman, fell in love with her own creation, and turned it into a man. The poet, thus deprived of a female sexual partner, concedes that it is women who will receive pleasure and progeny from the young man, but the poet will nevertheless have the young man’s love.
A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
4With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
8Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created,
Till Nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated
12By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.
The poet contrasts himself with poets who compare those they love to such rarities as the sun, the stars, or April flowers. His poetry will, he writes, show his beloved as a beautiful mortal instead of using the exaggerated terms of an advertisement.
So is it not with me as with that muse
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
4And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s firstborn flowers and all things rare
8That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O, let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
12As those gold candles fixed in heaven’s air.
Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.
This sonnet plays with the poetic idea of love as an exchange of hearts. The poet urges the young man to take care of himself, since his breast carries the poet’s heart; and the poet promises the same care of the young man’s heart, which, the poet reminds him, has been given to the poet “not to give back again.”
My glass shall not persuade me I am old
So long as youth and thou are of one date,
But when in thee Time’s furrows I behold,
4Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me;
8How can I then be elder than thou art?
O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I not for myself but for thee will,
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
12As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain.
Thou gav’st me thine not to give back again.
The poet blames his inability to speak his love on his lack of self-confidence and his too-powerful emotions, and he begs his beloved to find that love expressed in his writings.
As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
4Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I for fear of trust forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
8O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
12More than that tongue that more hath more expressed.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ.
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
This sonnet elaborates the metaphor of carrying the beloved’s picture in one’s heart. The poet claims that his eyes have painted on his heart a picture of the beloved. The poet’s body is both the picture’s frame and the shop where it is displayed. His only regret is that eyes paint only what they see, and they cannot see into his beloved’s heart.
Mine eye hath played the painter and hath ⌜stelled⌝
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
4And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill
To find where your true image pictured lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
8That hath his windows glazèd with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, wherethrough the sun
12Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee.
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art:
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.
The poet contrasts himself with those who seem more fortunate than he. Their titles and honors, he says, though great, are subject to whim and accident, while his greatest blessing, his love, will not change.
Let those who are in favor with their stars
Of public honor and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
4Unlooked for joy in that I honor most.
Great princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies burièd,
8For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famousèd for worth,
After a thousand victories once foiled,
Is from the book of honor razèd quite,
12And all the rest forgot for which he toiled.
Then happy I, that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove nor be removed.
The poet, assuming the role of a vassal owing feudal allegiance, offers his poems as a token of duty, apologizing for their lack of literary worth. He begs his liege lord to protect this expression of his duty until fortune allows him to boast openly of his love.
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage
4To witness duty, not to show my wit;
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
8In thy soul’s thought, all naked, will bestow it;
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tattered loving
12To show me worthy of ⌜thy⌝ sweet respect.
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet complains that the night, which should be a time of rest, is instead a time of continuing toil as, in his imagination, he struggles to reach his beloved.
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired,
But then begins a journey in my head
4To work my mind when body’s work’s expired.
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
8Looking on darkness which the blind do see;
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents ⌜thy⌝ shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night
12Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo, thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.
Continuing the thought of s. 27, the poet claims that day and night conspire to torment him. Though he has flattered both day and night by comparing them to beautiful qualities of his beloved, day continues to exhaust him and night to distress him.
How can I then return in happy plight
That am debarred the benefit of rest,
When day’s oppression is not eased by night,
4But day by night and night by day oppressed;
And each, though enemies to either’s reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
8How far I toil, still farther off from thee?
I tell the day to please him thou art bright
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven;
So flatter I the swart complexioned night,
12When sparkling stars twire not, thou ⌜gild’st⌝ the even.
But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger.
The poet, dejected by his low status, remembers his friend’s love, and is thereby lifted into joy.
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
4And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
8With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
12From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
The poet pictures his moments of serious reflection as a court session in which his memories are summoned to appear. As they come forward, he grieves for all that he has lost, but he then thinks of his beloved friend and the grief changes to joy.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
4And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste;
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since canceled woe,
8And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
12Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
The poet sees the many friends now lost to him as contained in his beloved. Thus, the love he once gave to his lost friends is now given wholly to the beloved.
Thy bosom is endearèd with all hearts
Which I by lacking have supposèd dead,
And there reigns love and all love’s loving parts,
4And all those friends which I thought burièd.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye,
As interest of the dead, which now appear
8But things removed that hidden in ⌜thee⌝ lie.
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give;
12That due of many now is thine alone.
Their images I loved I view in thee,
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.
The poet imagines his poems being read and judged by his beloved after the poet’s death, and he asks that the poems, though not as excellent as those written by later writers, be kept and enjoyed because of the love expressed in them.
If thou survive my well-contented day
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more resurvey
4These poor rude lines of thy deceasèd lover,
Compare them with the bett’ring of the time,
And though they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
8Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
“Had my friend’s muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought
12To march in ranks of better equipage.
But since he died and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.”
The poet describes the sun first in its glory and then after its being covered with dark clouds; this change resembles his relationship with the beloved, who is now “masked” from him. But if even the sun can be darkened, he writes, it is no wonder that earthly beings sometimes fail to remain bright and unstained. (This is the first of a series of three poems in which the beloved is pictured as having hurt the poet through some unspecified misdeed.)
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
4Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy,
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
8Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all-triumphant splendor on my brow,
But, out alack, he was but one hour mine;
12The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
In this sonnet the sun is again overtaken by clouds, but now the sun/beloved is accused of having betrayed the poet by promising what is not delivered. The poet writes that while the beloved’s repentance and shame do not rectify the damage done, the beloved’s tears are so precious that they serve as atonement.
Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
4Hiding thy brav’ry in their rotten smoke?
’Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak
8That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace.
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss.
Th’ offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
12To him that bears the strong offense’s ⌜cross.⌝
Ah, but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.
The poet excuses the beloved by citing examples of other naturally beautiful objects associated with things hurtful or ugly. He then accuses himself of being corrupted through excusing his beloved’s faults.
No more be grieved at that which thou hast done.
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
4And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting salving thy amiss,
8Excusing ⌜thy⌝ sins more than ⌜thy⌝ sins are.
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense—
Thy adverse party is thy advocate—
And ’gainst myself a lawful plea commence.
12Such civil war is in my love and hate
That I an accessary needs must be
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.
The poet accepts the fact that for the sake of the beloved’s honorable name, their lives must be separate and their love unacknowledged.
Let me confess that we two must be twain
Although our undivided loves are one;
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
4Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,
8Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailèd guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honor me
12Unless thou take that honor from thy name.
But do not so. I love thee in such sort
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
The poet feels crippled by misfortune but takes delight in the blessings heaped by nature and fortune on the beloved.
As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,
4Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in ⌜thy⌝ parts do crownèd sit,
8I make my love engrafted to this store.
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed
12And by a part of all thy glory live.
Look what is best, that best I wish in thee.
This wish I have, then ten times happy me.
The poet attributes all that is praiseworthy in his poetry to the beloved, who is his theme and inspiration.
How can my muse want subject to invent
While thou dost breathe that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
4For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O, give thyself the thanks if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight,
For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee
8When thou thyself dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
12Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
If my slight muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.
As in s. 36, the poet finds reasons to excuse the fact that he and the beloved are parted. First, it is easier to praise the beloved if they are not a “single one”; and, second, absence from the beloved gives the poet leisure to contemplate their love.
O, how thy worth with manners may I sing
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring,
4And what is ’t but mine own when I praise thee?
Even for this let us divided live
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give
8That due to thee which thou deserv’st alone.
O absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove
Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave
To entertain the time with thoughts of love,
12Which time and thoughts so sweetly ⌜doth⌝ deceive,
And that thou teachest how to make one twain
By praising him here who doth hence remain.
This first of three linked sonnets accuses the young man of having stolen the poet’s “love.” The poet struggles to justify and forgive the young man’s betrayal, but can go no farther than the concluding “we must not be foes.” (While the word love is elaborately ambiguous in this sonnet, the following two sonnets make it clear that the theft is of the poet’s mistress.)
Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all.
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
4All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
Then, if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blamed if thou ⌜thyself⌝ deceivest
8By willful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robb’ry, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet love knows it is a greater grief
12To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites, yet we must not be foes.
The poet again tries to forgive the young man, now on the grounds that the young man could hardly have been expected to refuse the woman’s seduction. The attempt to forgive fails because the young man has caused a twofold betrayal: his beauty having first seduced the woman, both he and she have then been faithless to the poet.
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits
When I am sometime absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty and thy years full well befits,
4For still temptation follows where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won;
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed;
And when a woman woos, what woman’s son
8Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed?
Ay me, but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
12Where thou art forced to break a twofold truth:
Hers, by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine, by thy beauty being false to me.
The poet attempts to excuse the two lovers. He first argues that they love each other only because of him; he then argues that since he and the young man are one, in loving the young man, the woman actually loves the poet. The poet acknowledges, though, that all of this is mere “flattery” or self-delusion.
That thou hast her, it is not all my grief,
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly;
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
4A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders, thus I will excuse ye:
Thou dost love her because thou know’st I love her,
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
8Suff’ring my friend for my sake to approve her.
If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss;
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
12And both for my sake lay on me this cross.
But here’s the joy: my friend and I are one;
Sweet flattery! then she loves but me alone.
The poet, separated from the beloved, reflects on the paradox that because he dreams of the beloved, he sees better with his eyes closed in sleep than he does with them open in daylight. His desire, though, is to see not the dream image but the actual person.
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee
4And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light
8When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessèd made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night ⌜thy⌝ fair imperfect shade
12Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
In this sonnet, which links with s. 45 to form, in effect, a two-part poem, the poet wishes that he were thought rather than flesh so that he could be with the beloved. The poet, being mortal, is instead made up of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water. The dullest of these elements, earth and water, are dominant in him and force him to remain fixed in place, weeping “heavy tears.”
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way,
For then, despite of space, I would be brought
4From limits far remote, where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee,
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
8As soon as think the place where he would be.
But, ah, thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that, so much of earth and water wrought,
12I must attend time’s leisure with my moan;
Receiving ⌜nought⌝ by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.
This sonnet, the companion to s. 44, imagines the poet’s thoughts and desires as the “other two” elements—air and fire—that make up “life’s composition.” When his thoughts and desires are with the beloved, the poet, reduced to earth and water, sinks into melancholy; when his thoughts and desires return, assuring the poet of the beloved’s “fair health,” the poet is briefly joyful, until he sends them back to the beloved and again is “sad.”
The other two, slight air and purging fire,
Are both with thee, wherever I abide;
The first my thought, the other my desire,
4These present-absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker elements are gone
In tender embassy of love to thee,
My life, being made of four, with two alone
8Sinks down to death, oppressed with melancholy;
Until life’s composition be recured
By those swift messengers returned from thee,
Who even but now come back again, assured
12Of ⌜thy⌝ fair health, recounting it to me.
This told, I joy; but then, no longer glad,
I send them back again and straight grow sad.
In this first of another pair of sonnets (perhaps a witty thank-you for the gift of a miniature portrait), the poet’s eyes and his heart are in a bitter dispute about which has the legal right to the beloved’s picture. The case is brought before a jury made up of the poet’s thoughts. This jury determines that the eyes have the right to the picture, since it is the beloved’s outer image; the heart, though, has the right to the beloved’s love.
Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight.
Mine eye my heart ⌜thy⌝ picture’s sight would bar,
4My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie,
A closet never pierced with crystal eyes;
But the defendant doth that plea deny,
8And says in him ⌜thy⌝ fair appearance lies.
To ⌜’cide⌝ this title is impanelèd
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
And by their verdict is determinèd
12The clear eyes’ moiety and the dear heart’s part,
As thus: mine eyes’ due is ⌜thy⌝ outward part,
And my heart’s right, ⌜thy⌝ inward love of heart.
After the verdict is rendered (in s. 46), the poet’s eyes and heart become allies, with the eyes sometimes inviting the heart to enjoy the picture, and the heart sometimes inviting the eyes to share in its “thoughts of love.” The beloved, though absent, is thus doubly present to the poet through the picture and through the poet’s thoughts.
Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other.
When that mine eye is famished for a look,
4Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast
And to the painted banquet bids my heart.
Another time mine eye is my heart’s guest
8And in his thoughts of love doth share a part.
So, either by thy picture or my love,
Thyself away are present still with me;
For thou ⌜no⌝ farther than my thoughts canst move,
12And I am still with them, and they with thee;
Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight.
The poet contrasts the relative ease of locking away valuable material possessions with the impossibility of safeguarding his relationship with the beloved. The beloved can be enclosed only in the poet’s heart, which cannot block the beloved’s egress nor protect against those who would steal the beloved away.
How careful was I, when I took my way,
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unusèd stay
4From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust!
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou best of dearest and mine only care
8Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.
Thee have I not locked up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
12From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;
And even thence thou wilt be stol’n, I fear,
For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.
The poet tries to prepare himself for a future in which the beloved rejects him. When that day comes, he writes, he will shield himself within the knowledge of his own worth, acknowledging that he can cite no reason in support of their love.
Against that time, if ever that time come,
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
Whenas thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
4Called to that audit by advised respects;
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass
And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
8Shall reasons find of settled gravity;
Against that time do I ensconce me here
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand against myself uprear
12To guard the lawful reasons on thy part.
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet’s unhappiness in traveling away from the beloved seems to him reproduced in the plodding steps and the groans of the horse that carries him.
How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek, my weary travel’s end,
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
4“Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend.”
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods ⌜dully⌝ on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
8His rider loved not speed, being made from thee.
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
12More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind:
My grief lies onward and my joy behind.
The slow-moving horse (of s. 50) will have no excuse for his plodding gait on the return journey, for which even the fastest horse, the poet realizes, will be too slow. Returning to the beloved, desire and love will outrun any horse.
Thus can my love excuse the slow offense
Of my dull bearer when from thee I speed:
From where thou art, why should I haste me thence?
4Till I return, of posting is no need.
O, what excuse will my poor beast then find
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind;
8In wingèd speed no motion shall I know.
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace;
Therefore desire, of ⌜perfect’st⌝ love being made,
Shall neigh no dull flesh in his fiery race.
12But love for love thus shall excuse my jade:
“Since from thee going he went willful slow,
Towards thee I’ll run, and give him leave to go.”
The poet likens himself to a rich man who visits his treasures rarely so that they remain for him a source of pleasure. The poet’s infrequent meetings with the beloved, he argues, are, like rare feasts or widely spaced jewels, the more precious for their rarity.
So am I as the rich whose blessèd key
Can bring him to his sweet up-lockèd treasure,
The which he will not ev’ry hour survey,
4For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since seldom coming in the long year set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placèd are,
8Or captain jewels in the carcanet.
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide
To make some special instant special blessed
12By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.
Blessèd are you whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had, to triumph, being lacked, to hope.
Using language from Neoplatonism, the poet praises the beloved both as the essence of beauty (its very Idea, which is only imperfectly reflected in lesser beauties) and as the epitome of constancy.
What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since everyone hath, every one, one shade,
4And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
8And you in Grecian tires are painted new.
Speak of the spring and foison of the year;
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear,
12And you in every blessèd shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.
Here the beloved’s truth is compared to the fragrance in the rose. As that fragrance is distilled into perfume, so the beloved’s truth distills in verse.
O, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
4For that sweet odor which doth in it live.
The canker blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumèd tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly
8When summer’s breath their maskèd buds discloses;
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwooed and unrespected fade,
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
12Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odors made.
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall vade, by verse distils your truth.
Continuing the idea of the beloved’s distillation into poetry (in the couplet of s. 54), the poet now claims that his verse will be a “living record” in which the beloved will “shine . . . bright” until Doomsday.
Not marble nor the gilded ⌜monuments⌝
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
4Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
8The living record of your memory.
’Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
12That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
The poet addresses the spirit of love and then the beloved, urging that love be reinvigorated and that the present separation of the lovers serve to renew their love’s intensity.
Sweet love, renew thy force. Be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
4Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.
So, love, be thou. Although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
8The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad int’rim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
12Return of love, more blessed may be the view.
⌜Or⌝ call it winter, which being full of care
Makes summer’s welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.
In this and the following sonnet, the poet presents his relationship with the beloved as that of servant and master. As the beloved’s servant, the poet describes himself (with barely suppressed bitterness) as having no life or wishes of his own as he waits like a “sad slave” for the commands of his “sovereign.”
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend
4Nor services to do till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
8When you have bid your servant once adieu.
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
12Save where you are how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.
This sonnet repeats the ideas and some of the language of s. 57, though the pain of waiting upon (and waiting for) the beloved and asking nothing in return seems even more intense in the present poem.
That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand th’ account of hours to crave,
4Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
O, let me suffer, being at your beck,
Th’ imprisoned absence of your liberty,
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check
8Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
12Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.
The poet here plays with the idea of history as cyclical and with the proverb “There is nothing new under the sun.” If he could go back in time, he writes, he could see how the beloved’s beauty was praised in the distant past and thus judge whether the world had progressed, regressed, or stayed the same.
If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, laboring for invention, bear amiss
4The second burden of a former child.
O, that record could with a backward look,
Even of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some antique book,
8Since mind at first in character was done,
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composèd wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or whe’er better they,
12Or whether revolution be the same.
O, sure I am the wits of former days
To subjects worse have given admiring praise.
The poet meditates on life’s inevitable course through maturity to death. Everything, he says, is a victim of Time’s scythe. Only his poetry will stand against Time, keeping alive his praise of the beloved.
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before;
4In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crookèd eclipses ’gainst his glory fight,
8And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of Nature’s truth,
12And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
The poet first wonders if the beloved is deliberately keeping him awake by sending dream images to spy on him, but then admits it is his own devotion and jealousy that will not let him sleep.
Is it thy will thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken
4While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?
Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
8The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?
O, no. Thy love, though much, is not so great.
It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat
12To play the watchman ever for thy sake.
For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others all too near.
The poet accuses himself of supreme vanity in that he thinks so highly of himself. He then admits that the “self” he holds in such esteem is not his physical self but his “other self,” the beloved.
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
4It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account,
And for myself mine own worth do define
8As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed
Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
12Self so self-loving were iniquity.
’Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
By preserving the youthful beauty of the beloved in poetry, the poet makes preparation for the day that the beloved will himself be old.
Against my love shall be, as I am now,
With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’erworn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
4With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath traveled on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing, or vanished out of sight,
8Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
12My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.
Signs of the destructive power of time and decay—such as fallen towers and eroded beaches—force the poet to admit that the beloved will also be lost to him and to mourn this anticipated loss.
When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
4And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
8Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay,
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
12That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
In the face of the terrible power of Time, how, the poet asks, can beauty survive? And how can the beloved, most beautiful of all, be protected from Time’s injury? The only protection, he decides, lies in the lines of his poetry.
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
4Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout
8Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O, fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
12Or who his spoil ⌜of⌝ beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
The poet lists examples of the societal wrongs that have made him so weary of life that he would wish to die, except that he would thereby desert the beloved.
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry:
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,
4And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
8And strength by limping sway disablèd,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
12And captive good attending captain ill.
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet asks why the beautiful young man should live in a society so corrupt, since his very presence gives it legitimacy. He concludes that Nature is keeping the young man alive as a reminder of the world as it used to be.
Ah, wherefore with infection should he live,
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve
4And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek
And steal dead seeing of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
8Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
Why should he live, now Nature bankrout is,
Beggared of blood to blush through lively veins,
For she hath no exchequer now but his,
12And, proud of many, lives upon his gains?
O, him she stores, to show what wealth she had
In days long since, before these last so bad.
Continuing the argument of s. 67, the poet sets the natural beauty of the young man against the “false art” of those whose beauty depends on cosmetics and wigs.
Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flowers do now,
Before these bastard signs of fair were borne,
4Or durst inhabit on a living brow;
Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchers, were shorn away
To live a second life on second head,
8Ere beauty’s dead fleece made another gay.
In him those holy antique hours are seen,
Without all ornament, itself and true,
Making no summer of another’s green,
12Robbing no old to dress his beauty new.
And him as for a map doth Nature store,
To show false art what beauty was of yore.
The poet tells the young man that while the world praises his outward beauty, those who look into his inner being (as reflected in his deeds) speak of him in quite different terms. They ground their accusations in his having become too “common.”
Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend.
All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that ⌜due,⌝
4Utt’ring bare truth, even so as foes commend.
⌜Thy⌝ outward thus with outward praise is crowned,
But those same tongues that give thee so thine own
In other accents do this praise confound
8By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that, in guess, they measure by thy deeds;
Then, churls, their thoughts, although their eyes were kind,
12To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds.
But why thy odor matcheth not thy show,
The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.
The poet tells the young man that the attacks on his reputation do not mean that he is flawed, since beauty always provokes such attacks. (This sonnet may contradict s. 69, or may simply elaborate on it.)
That thou ⌜art⌝ blamed shall not be thy defect,
For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair.
The ornament of beauty is suspect,
4A crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air.
So thou be good, slander doth but approve
⌜Thy⌝ worth the greater, being wooed of time,
For canker vice the sweetest buds doth love,
8And thou present’st a pure unstainèd prime.
Thou hast passed by the ambush of young days,
Either not assailed, or victor being charged;
Yet this thy praise cannot be so thy praise
12To tie up envy, evermore enlarged.
If some suspect of ill masked not thy show,
Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts shouldst owe.
In this first of a series of four sonnets in which the poet addresses his own death and its effect on the beloved, he here urges the beloved to forget him once he is gone.
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
4From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell.
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
8If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
12But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone.
Continuing from s. 71, this sonnet explains that the beloved can defend loving the poet only by speaking falsely, by giving the poet more credit than he deserves. The beloved is urged instead to forget the poet once he is dead.
O, lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me that you should love,
After my death, dear love, forget me quite,
4For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceasèd I
8Than niggard truth would willingly impart.
O, lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is
12And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.
The poet describes himself as nearing the end of his life. He imagines the beloved’s love for him growing stronger in the face of that death.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
4Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
8Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
12Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
In this sonnet, which continues from s. 73, the poet consoles the beloved by telling him that only the poet’s body will die; the spirit of the poet will continue to live in the poetry, which is the beloved’s.
But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
4Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee.
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
8My spirit is thine, the better part of me.
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
12Too base of thee to be rememberèd.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.
The poet compares himself to a miser with his treasure. He finds the beloved so essential to his life that he lives in a constant tension between glorying in that treasure and fearing its loss.
So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
4As ’twixt a miser and his wealth is found:
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
8Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure.
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starvèd for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
12Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.
The poet poses the question of why his poetry never changes but keeps repeating the same language and technique. The answer, he says, is that his theme never changes; he always writes of the beloved and of love.
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
4To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost ⌜tell⌝ my name,
8Showing their birth and where they did proceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
12Spending again what is already spent.
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love, still telling what is told.
This sonnet seems to have been written to accompany the gift of a blank notebook. The poet encourages the beloved to write down the thoughts that arise from observing a mirror and a sundial and the lessons they teach about the brevity of life.
Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
The vacant leaves thy mind’s imprint will bear,
4And of this book this learning mayst thou taste:
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show,
Of mouthèd graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
8Time’s thievish progress to eternity.
Look what thy memory cannot contain
Commit to these waste ⌜blanks,⌝ and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain,
12To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.
In this first of a series of three sonnets in which the poet expresses his concern that others are writing verses praising the beloved, the other poets are presented as learned and skillful and thus in no need of the beloved, in contrast to the poet speaking here.
So oft have I invoked thee for my muse
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
4And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learnèd’s wing
8And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine and born of thee.
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
12And arts with thy sweet graces gracèd be.
But thou art all my art and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.
In this sonnet, which follows directly from s. 78, the poet laments the fact that another poet has taken his place. He urges the beloved to recognize that all of the beauty, grace, and virtue found in the rival’s praise is taken from the beloved, so that the rival deserves no thanks.
Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace;
But now my gracious numbers are decayed,
4And my sick muse doth give another place.
I grant, sweet love, thy lovely argument
Deserves the travail of a worthier pen;
Yet what of thee thy poet doth invent
8He robs thee of and pays it thee again.
He lends thee virtue, and he stole that word
From thy behavior; beauty doth he give
And found it in thy cheek. He can afford
12No praise to thee but what in thee doth live.
Then thank him not for that which he doth say,
Since what he owes thee thou thyself dost pay.
The poet admits his inferiority to the one who is now writing about the beloved, portraying the two poets as ships sailing on the ocean of the beloved’s worth—the rival poet as large and splendid and himself as a small boat that risks being wrecked by love.
O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
4To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark, inferior far to his,
8On your broad main doth willfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride,
Or, being wracked, I am a worthless boat,
12He of tall building and of goodly pride.
Then, if he thrive and I be cast away,
The worst was this: my love was my decay.
The poet, imagining a future in which both he and the beloved are dead, sees himself as being completely forgotten while the beloved will be forever remembered because of the poet’s verse.
Or I shall live your epitaph to make
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten.
From hence your memory death cannot take,
4Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die.
The Earth can yield me but a common grave,
8When you entombèd in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’erread;
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
12When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live—such virtue hath my pen—
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet again addresses the fact that other poets write in praise of the beloved. The beloved is free to read them, but their poems do not represent the beloved truly.
I grant thou wert not married to my muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
4Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise,
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
8Some fresher stamp of the time-bettering days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised
What strainèd touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized
12In true plain words by thy true-telling friend.
And their gross painting might be better used
Where cheeks need blood; in thee it is abused.
This sonnet continues from s. 82, but the poet has learned to his dismay that his plain speaking (and/or his silence) has offended the beloved. He argues that no words can match the beloved’s beauty.
I never saw that you did painting need
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
4The barren tender of a poet’s debt.
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
8Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb,
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
12When others would give life and bring a tomb.
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.
The poet reiterates his claim that poems praising the beloved should reflect the beloved’s perfections rather than exaggerate them. He accuses the beloved of caring too much for praise.
Who is it that says most, which can say more
Than this rich praise, that you alone are you,
In whose confine immurèd is the store
4Which should example where your equal grew?
Lean penury within that pen doth dwell
That to his subject lends not some small glory,
But he that writes of you, if he can tell
8That you are you, so dignifies his story.
Let him but copy what in you is writ,
Not making worse what nature made so clear,
And such a counterpart shall fame his wit,
12Making his style admirèd everywhere.
You to your beauteous blessings add a curse,
Being fond on praise, which makes your praises worse.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet says that his silence in the face of others’ extravagant praise of the beloved is only outward muteness. His thoughts are filled with love.
My tongue-tied muse in manners holds her still
While comments of your praise, richly compiled,
Reserve their character with golden quill
4And precious phrase by all the muses filed.
I think good thoughts whilst other write good words,
And like unlettered clerk still cry amen
To every hymn that able spirit affords
8In polished form of well-refinèd pen.
Hearing you praised, I say “’Tis so, ’tis true,”
And to the most of praise add something more;
But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
12Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.
Then others for the breath of words respect,
Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.
This final “rival poet” sonnet continues from s. 85 but echoes the imagery of s. 80. The poet explains that his silence is not from fear of his rival, but results from having nothing to write about, now that the rival’s verse has appropriated the beloved’s favor.
Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all-too-precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
4Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
8Giving him aid, my verse astonishèd.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast;
12I was not sick of any fear from thence.
But when your countenance filled up his line,
Then lacked I matter; that enfeebled mine.
The poet writes as if his relationship with the beloved has ended—and as if that relationship had been a wonderful dream from which he has now waked.
Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate.
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
4My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
8And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thy self thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
12Comes home again, on better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
In this first of three linked sonnets in which the poet has been (or imagines himself someday to be) repudiated by the beloved, the poet offers to sacrifice himself and his reputation in order to make the now-estranged beloved look better.
When thou shalt be disposed to set me light
And place my merit in the eye of scorn,
Upon thy side against myself I’ll fight
4And prove thee virtuous, though thou art forsworn.
With mine own weakness being best acquainted,
Upon thy part I can set down a story
Of faults concealed wherein I am attainted,
8That thou, in losing me, shall win much glory;
And I by this will be a gainer too;
For bending all my loving thoughts on thee,
The injuries that to myself I do,
12Doing thee vantage, double-vantage me.
Such is my love, to thee I so belong,
That, for thy right, myself will bear all wrong.
This sonnet is a detailed extension of the closing line of s. 88. The poet here lists the ways he will make himself look bad in order to make the beloved look good.
Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offense;
Speak of my lameness and I straight will halt,
4Against thy reasons making no defense.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desirèd change,
As I’ll myself disgrace, knowing thy will;
8I will acquaintance strangle and look strange,
Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue
Thy sweet belovèd name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong
12And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
For thee, against myself I’ll vow debate,
For I must ne’er love him whom thou dost hate.
Continuing from the final line of s. 89, this sonnet begs the beloved to deliver quickly any terrible blow that awaits the poet. Then the other blows being dealt by the world will seem as nothing.
Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now,
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
4And do not drop in for an afterloss.
Ah, do not, when my heart hath ’scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
8To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come; so ⌜shall⌝ I taste
12At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.
In this first of three linked sonnets, the poet sets the love of the beloved above every other treasure, but then acknowledges that that love can be withdrawn.
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though newfangled ill,
4Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest.
But these particulars are not my measure;
8All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is ⌜better⌝ than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments’ cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
12And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast.
Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
All this away, and me most wretched make.
Continuing the argument from s. 91, the poet, imagining the loss of the beloved, realizes gladly that since even the smallest perceived diminishment of that love would cause him instantly to die, he need not fear living with the pain of loss. But, he asks, what if the beloved is false but gives no sign of defection?
But do thy worst to steal thyself away,
For term of life thou art assurèd mine,
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
4For it depends upon that love of thine.
Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs
When in the least of them my life hath end;
I see a better state to me belongs
8Than that which on thy humor doth depend.
Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O, what a happy title do I find,
12Happy to have thy love, happy to die!
But what’s so blessèd-fair that fears no blot?
Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.
The poet explores the implications of the final line of s. 92. It would be easy for the beloved to be secretly false, he realizes, because the beloved is so unfailingly beautiful and (apparently) loving.
So shall I live, supposing thou art true,
Like a deceivèd husband; so love’s face
May still seem love to me, though altered new;
4Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place.
For there can live no hatred in thine eye;
Therefore in that I cannot know thy change.
In many’s looks, the false heart’s history
8Is writ in moods and frowns and wrinkles strange.
But heaven in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate’er thy thoughts or thy heart’s workings be,
12Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell.
How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,
If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show.
This sonnet describes a category of especially blessed and powerful people who appear to exert complete control over their lives and themselves. These persons are then implicitly compared to flowers and contrasted with weeds, the poem concluding with a warning to such persons in the form of a proverb about lilies.
They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
4Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
8Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flower with base infection meet,
12The basest weed outbraves his dignity.
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
In this first of a pair of related poems, the poet accuses the beloved of using beauty to hide a corrupt moral center.
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of thy budding name!
4O, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments on thy sport,
Cannot dispraise but in a kind of praise;
8Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
O, what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty’s veil doth cover every blot,
12And all things turns to fair that eyes can see!
Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;
The hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge.
As in the companion s. 95, the beloved is accused of enjoying the love of many despite his faults, which youth and beauty convert to graces.
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;
Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport.
Both grace and faults are loved of more and less;
4Thou mak’st faults graces that to thee resort.
As on the finger of a thronèd queen
The basest jewel will be well esteemed,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
8To truths translated and for true things deemed.
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray
If like a lamb he could his looks translate!
How many gazers mightst thou lead away
12If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state!
But do not so. I love thee in such sort
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
In this first of three sonnets about a period of separation from the beloved, the poet remembers the time as bleak winter, though the actual season was warm and filled with nature’s abundance.
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,
4What old December’s bareness everywhere!
And yet this time removed was summer’s time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
8Like widowed wombs after their lords’ decease.
Yet this abundant issue seemed to me
But hope of orphans and unfathered fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
12And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.
The poet here remembers an April separation, in which springtime beauty seemed to him only a pale reflection of the absent beloved.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
4That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
8Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
12Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
This third poem about the beloved’s absence is closely linked to s. 98. In the present sonnet, the poet accuses spring flowers and herbs of stealing color and fragrance from the beloved. The sonnet is unusual in that the first “quatrain” has five lines; the poem therefore has 15 lines, the only such sonnet in the sequence.
The forward violet thus did I chide:
“Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
4Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.”
The lily I condemnèd for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair;
8The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
⌜One⌝ blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol’n of both,
And to his robb’ry had annexed thy breath;
12But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker ate him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or color it had stol’n from thee.
In this first of a group of four sonnets about a period of time in which the poet has failed to write about the beloved, the poet summons his poetic genius to return and compose verse that will immortalize the beloved.
Where art thou, muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
4Dark’ning thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return, forgetful muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
8And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, resty muse; my love’s sweet face survey
If Time have any wrinkle graven there.
If any, be a satire to decay
12And make Time’s spoils despisèd everywhere.
Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
So thou prevent’st his scythe and crookèd knife.
Continuing from s. 100, this poem has the muse tell the poet that the beloved needs no praise. The poet responds that the poems are for the edification of future ages.
O truant muse, what shall be thy amends
For thy neglect of truth in beauty dyed?
Both truth and beauty on my love depends;
4So dost thou too, and therein dignified.
Make answer, muse. Wilt thou not haply say
“Truth needs no color with his color fixed,
Beauty no pencil beauty’s truth to lay;
8But best is best if never intermixed”?
Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?
Excuse not silence so, for ’t lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
12And to be praised of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office, muse; I teach thee how
To make him seem long hence as he shows now.
The poet defends his silence, arguing that it is a sign not of lessened love but of his desire, in a world where pleasures have grown common, to avoid wearying the beloved with poems of praise.
My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear.
That love is merchandized whose rich esteeming
4The owner’s tongue doth publish everywhere.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays,
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
8And stops his pipe in growth of riper days.
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burdens every bough,
12And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore, like her, I sometime hold my tongue,
Because I would not dull you with my song.
In this fourth poem of apology for his silence, the poet argues that the beloved’s own face is so superior to any words of praise that silence is the better way.
Alack, what poverty my muse brings forth,
That, having such a scope to show her pride,
The argument all bare is of more worth
4Than when it hath my added praise beside.
O, blame me not if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That overgoes my blunt invention quite,
8Dulling my lines and doing me disgrace.
Were it not sinful, then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
For to no other pass my verses tend
12Than of your graces and your gifts to tell.
And more, much more, than in my verse can sit
Your own glass shows you when you look in it.
The poet ponders the beloved’s seemingly unchanging beauty, realizing that it is doubtless altering even as he watches. He warns that the epitome of beauty will have died before future ages are born.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
4Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
8Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah, yet doth beauty, like a dial hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
12Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived.
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
Arguing that his poetry is not idolatrous in the sense of “polytheistic,” the poet contends that he celebrates only a single person, the beloved, as forever “fair, kind, and true.” Yet by locating this trinity of features in a single being, the poet flirts with idolatry in the sense of worshipping his beloved.
Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my belovèd as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
4To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse, to constancy confined,
8One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
“Fair, kind, and true” is all my argument,
“Fair, kind, and true,” varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
12Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
“Fair,” “kind,” and “true” have often lived alone,
Which three till now never kept seat in one.
The poet, in reading descriptions of beautiful knights and ladies in old poetry, realizes that the poets were trying to describe the beauty of the beloved, but, having never seen him, could only approximate it.
When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
4In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have expressed
8Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they looked but with divining eyes,
12They had not ⌜skill⌝ enough your worth to sing.
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
This sonnet celebrates an external event that had threatened to be disastrous but that has turned out to be wonderful. The poet’s love, in this new time, is also refreshed.
Not mine own fears nor the prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come
Can yet the lease of my true love control,
4Supposed as forfeit to a confined doom.
The mortal moon hath her eclipse endured,
And the sad augurs mock their own presage;
Incertainties now crown themselves assured,
8And peace proclaims olives of endless age.
Now with the drops of this most balmy time
My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes,
Since, spite of him, I’ll live in this poor rhyme,
12While he insults o’er dull and speechless tribes;
And thou in this shalt find thy monument
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.
The poet explains that his repeated words of love and praise are like daily prayer; though old, they are always new. True love is also always new, though the lover and the beloved may age.
What’s in the brain that ink may character
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?
What’s new to speak, what now to register,
4That may express my love or thy dear merit?
Nothing, sweet boy; but yet, like prayers divine,
I must each day say o’er the very same,
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
8Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love’s fresh case
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
12But makes antiquity for aye his page,
Finding the first conceit of love there bred,
Where time and outward form would show it dead.
The poet defends his infidelities, arguing that his return washes away the blemish of his having left.
O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify;
As easy might I from myself depart
4As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie.
That is my home of love. If I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
8So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained
12To leave for nothing all thy sum of good.
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.
The poet confesses to having been unfaithful to the beloved, but claims that his straying has rejuvenated him and made the beloved seem even more godlike.
Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
4Made old offenses of affections new.
Most true it is that I have looked on truth
Askance and strangely; but by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
8And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end.
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
12A god in love, to whom I am confined.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.
In this first of two linked poems, the poet blames Fortune for putting him in a profession that led to his bad behavior, and he begs the beloved to punish him and to pity him.
O, for my sake do you ⌜with⌝ Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
4Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand;
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.
8Pity me, then, and wish I were renewed,
Whilst, like a willing patient, I will drink
Potions of eisel ’gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
12Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me, then, dear friend, and I assure ye
Even that your pity is enough to cure me.
The pity asked for in s. 111 has here been received, and the poet therefore has no interest in others’ opinions of his worth or behavior.
Your love and pity doth th’ impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamped upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
4So you o’ergreen my bad, my good allow?
You are my all the world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
8That my steeled sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others’ voices that my adder’s sense
To critic and to flatterer stoppèd are.
12Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred
That all the world besides methinks ⌜are⌝ dead.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet confesses that everything he sees is transformed into an image of the beloved.
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind,
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function, and is partly blind,
4Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth ⌜latch;⌝
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
8Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch.
For if it see the rud’st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favor or deformèd’st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
12The crow or dove, it shapes them to your feature.
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine ⌜eye⌝ untrue.
In a continuation of s. 113, the poet debates whether the lovely images of the beloved are true or are the mind’s delusions, and he decides on the latter.
Or whether doth my mind, being crowned with you,
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery?
Or whether shall I say mine eye saith true,
4And that your love taught it this alchemy,
To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best
8As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
O, ’tis the first: ’tis flattery in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up.
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is greeing,
12And to his palate doth prepare the cup.
If it be poisoned, ’tis the lesser sin
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.
The poet acknowledges that the very fact that his love has grown makes his earlier poems about the fullness and constancy of his love into lies.
Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer;
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
4My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning time, whose millioned accidents
Creep in ’twixt vows and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
8Divert strong minds to th’ course of alt’ring things—
Alas, why, fearing of time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say “Now I love you best,”
When I was certain o’er incertainty,
12Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
Love is a babe. Then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow.
The poet here meditates on what he sees as the truest and strongest kind of love, that between minds. He defines such a union as unalterable and eternal.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds
4Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
8Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
12But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
In this first of a group of four sonnets of self-accusation and of attempts at explanation, the poet lists the charges that can be made against him, and then says he was merely testing the beloved’s love.
Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
4Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchased right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
8Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my willfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
12But shoot not at me in your wakened hate,
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.
In this second sonnet of self-accusation, the poet uses analogies of eating and of purging to excuse his infidelities.
Like as to make our appetites more keen
With eager compounds we our palate urge;
As to prevent our maladies unseen
4We sicken to shun sickness when we purge;
Even so, being full of your ne’er-cloying sweetness,
To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding;
And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness
8To be diseased ere that there was true needing.
Thus policy in love, t’ anticipate
The ills that were not, grew to faults assured,
And brought to medicine a healthful state
12Which, rank of goodness, would by ill be cured.
But thence I learn, and find the lesson true:
Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you.
Filled with self-disgust at having subjected himself to so many evils in the course of his infidelity, the poet nevertheless finds an excuse in discovering that his now reconstructed love is stronger than it was before.
What potions have I drunk of siren tears
Distilled from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears,
4Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it hath thought itself so blessèd never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted
8In the distraction of this madding fever!
O, benefit of ill! Now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruined love, when it is built anew,
12Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.
So I return rebuked to my content,
And gain by ills thrice more than I have spent.
In this fourth sonnet about his unkindness to the beloved, the poet comforts himself with the memory of the time the beloved was unkind to him.
That you were once unkind befriends me now,
And for that sorrow which I then did feel
Needs must I under my transgression bow,
4Unless my nerves were brass or hammered steel.
For if you were by my unkindness shaken
As I by yours, you’ve passed a hell of time,
And I, a tyrant, have no leisure taken
8To weigh how once I suffered in your crime.
O, that our night of woe might have remembered
My deepest sense how hard true sorrow hits,
And soon to you as you to me then tendered
12The humble salve which wounded bosoms fits!
But that your trespass now becomes a fee;
Mine ransoms yours, and yours must ransom me.
The poet responds to slurs about his behavior by claiming that he is no worse (and is perhaps better) than his attackers.
’Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed,
When not to be receives reproach of being,
And the just pleasure lost, which is so deemed
4Not by our feeling but by others’ seeing.
For why should others’ false adulterate eyes
Give salutation to my sportive blood?
Or on my frailties why are frailer spies,
8Which in their wills count bad what I think good?
No, I am that I am; and they that level
At my abuses reckon up their own.
I may be straight though they themselves be bevel;
12By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown,
Unless this general evil they maintain:
All men are bad and in their badness reign.
This sonnet addresses the hard question of why the poet has given away the beloved’s gift of a writing tablet. After several stumbling tries, the poet ends by claiming that for him to have kept the tables would have implied that he needed help in remembering the unforgettable beloved.
Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full charactered with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain
4Beyond all date, even to eternity—
Or, at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to razed oblivion yield his part
8Of thee, thy record never can be missed.
That poor retention could not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
12To trust those tables that receive thee more.
To keep an adjunct to remember thee
Were to import forgetfulness in me.
The poet repeats an idea from s. 59—that there is nothing new under the sun—and accuses Time of tricking us into perceiving things as new only because we live for such a short time. He reasserts his vow to remain constant despite Time’s power.
No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change.
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
4They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old,
And rather make them born to our desire
8Than think that we before have heard them told.
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wond’ring at the present nor the past;
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
12Made more or less by thy continual haste.
This I do vow, and this shall ever be:
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.
In this difficult and much-discussed sonnet, the poet declares the permanence and wisdom of his love.
If my dear love were but the child of state,
It might for fortune’s bastard be unfathered,
As subject to time’s love or to time’s hate,
4Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gathered.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thrallèd discontent,
8Whereto th’ inviting time our fashion calls.
It fears not policy, that heretic
Which works on leases of short-numbered hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
12That it nor grows with heat nor drowns with showers.
To this I witness call the fools of time,
Which die for goodness who have lived for crime.
The poet, in apparent response to accusation, claims that his love (and, perhaps, his poetry of praise) is not basely motivated by desire for outward honor.
Were ’t aught to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honoring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
4Which proves more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favor
Lose all and more by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet forgoing simple savor,
8Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?
No, let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mixed with seconds, knows no art
12But mutual render, only me for thee.
Hence, thou suborned informer; a true soul
When most impeached stands least in thy control.
The poet acknowledges that the beloved young man grows lovelier with time, as if Nature has chosen him as her darling, but warns him that her protection cannot last forever—that eventually aging and death will come.
O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
4Thy lover’s withering as thy sweet self grow’st.
If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
8May Time disgrace, and wretched ⌜minutes⌝ kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure.
Her audit, though delayed, answered must be,
12And her quietus is to render thee.
The poet defends his love of a mistress who does not meet the conventional standard of beauty by claiming that her dark eyes and hair (and, perhaps, dark skin) are the new standard. The old version of beauty—blond hair and light skin—are so readily counterfeited that beauty in that form is no longer trusted.
In the old age, black was not counted fair,
Or, if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
4And beauty slandered with a bastard shame.
For since each hand hath put on nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
8But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
12Sland’ring creation with a false esteem.
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
This sonnet uses the conventional poetic idea of the poet envying an object being touched by the beloved. Here, the object is the keyboard of an instrument.
How oft, when thou, my music, music play’st
Upon that blessèd wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway’st
4The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
8At the wood’s boldness by thee blushing stand.
To be so tickled they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O’er whom ⌜thy⌝ fingers walk with gentle gait,
12Making dead wood more blest than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them ⌜thy⌝ fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
This sonnet describes what Booth calls “the life cycle of lust”—a moment of bliss preceded by madness and followed by despair.
Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and, till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
4Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight;
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
8On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
⌜Mad⌝ in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and ⌜proved a⌝ very woe;
12Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
This sonnet plays with poetic conventions in which, for example, the mistress’s eyes are compared with the sun, her lips with coral, and her cheeks with roses. His mistress, says the poet, is nothing like this conventional image, but is as lovely as any woman.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
4If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
8Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
12My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
The poet disagrees with those who say that his mistress is not beautiful enough to make a lover miserable. He groans for her as for any beauty. Only her behavior, he says, is ugly.
Thou art as tyrannous, so as thou art,
As those whose beauties proudly make them cruel;
For well thou know’st to my dear doting heart
4Thou art the fairest and most precious jewel.
Yet in good faith some say that thee behold,
Thy face hath not the power to make love groan;
To say they err I dare not be so bold,
8Although I swear it to myself alone.
And, to be sure that is not false I swear,
A thousand groans, but thinking on thy face,
One on another’s neck do witness bear
12Thy black is fairest in my judgment’s place.
In nothing art thou black save in thy deeds,
And thence this slander as I think proceeds.
The poet begs the mistress to model her heart after her eyes, which, because they are black as if dressed in mourning, show their pity for his pain as a lover.
Thine eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,
Knowing thy heart torment me with disdain,
Have put on black, and loving mourners be,
4Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.
And truly not the morning sun of heaven
Better becomes the gray cheeks of the east,
Nor that full star that ushers in the even
8Doth half that glory to the sober west
As those two mourning eyes become thy face.
O, let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me, since mourning doth thee grace,
12And suit thy pity like in every part.
Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the pain felt by the poet as lover of the mistress is multiplied by the fact that the beloved friend is also enslaved by her.
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me.
Is ’t not enough to torture me alone,
4But slave to slavery my sweet’st friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed;
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken,
8A torment thrice threefold thus to be crossed.
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom’s ward,
But then my friend’s heart let my poor heart bail.
Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
12Thou canst not then use rigor in my jail.
And yet thou wilt, for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.
The poet continues to rationalize the young man’s betrayal, here using language of debt and forfeit.
So, now I have confessed that he is thine
And I myself am mortgaged to thy will,
Myself I’ll forfeit, so that other mine
4Thou wilt restore to be my comfort still.
But thou wilt not, nor he will not be free,
For thou art covetous, and he is kind;
He learned but surety-like to write for me
8Under that bond that him as fast doth bind.
The statute of thy beauty thou wilt take,
Thou usurer that put’st forth all to use,
And sue a friend came debtor for my sake;
12So him I lose through my unkind abuse.
Him have I lost; thou hast both him and me.
He pays the whole, and yet am I not free.
In this first of two linked sonnets, the poet apparently begs his (promiscuous) mistress to allow him back into her bed.
Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy will,
And will to boot, and will in overplus.
More than enough am I that vex thee still,
4To thy sweet will making addition thus.
Wilt thou, whose will is large and spacious,
Not once vouchsafe to hide my will in thine?
Shall will in others seem right gracious,
8And in my will no fair acceptance shine?
The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in will, add to thy will
12One will of mine to make thy large will more.
Let no unkind, no fair beseechers kill.
Think all but one, and me in that one will.
In this second sonnet built around wordplay on the word will, the poet continues to plead for a place among the mistress’s lovers.
If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy will,
And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there.
4Thus far for love my love-suit, sweet, fulfill.
Will will fulfill the treasure of thy love,
Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
In things of great receipt with ease we prove
8Among a number one is reckoned none.
Then in the number let me pass untold,
Though in thy store’s account I one must be.
For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
12That nothing me, a something, sweet, to thee.
Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
And then thou lovest me, for my name is Will.
The poet asks why both his eyes and his heart have fastened on a woman neither beautiful nor chaste.
Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes
That they behold and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
4Yet what the best is take the worst to be.
If eyes, corrupt by overpartial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes’ falsehood hast thou forgèd hooks,
8Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
Why should my heart think that a several plot
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
12To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
And to this false plague are they now transferred.
The poet describes a relationship built on mutual deception that deceives neither party: the mistress claims constancy and the poet claims youth.
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 untutored youth,
4Unlearnèd 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;
8On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
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,
12And 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 flattered be.
The poet, after refusing to make excuses for the mistress’s wrongs, begs her not to flirt with others in his presence. He then excuses that wrong, only to ask her to direct her eyes against him as if they were mortal weapons.
O, call not me to justify the wrong
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart;
Wound me not with thine eye but with thy tongue;
4Use power with power, and slay me not by art.
Tell me thou lov’st elsewhere; but in my sight,
Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside.
What need’st thou wound with cunning when thy might
8Is more than my o’erpressed defense can bide?
Let me excuse thee: ah, my love well knows
Her pretty looks have been mine enemies;
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
12That they elsewhere might dart their injuries.
Yet do not so; but since I am near slain,
Kill me outright with looks, and rid my pain.
The poet warns the mistress that she would be wiser to pretend to love him and thus avoid driving him into a despair that would no longer hold its tongue.
Be wise as thou art cruel; do not press
My tongue-tied patience with too much disdain,
Lest sorrow lend me words, and words express
4The manner of my pity-wanting pain.
If I might teach thee wit, better it were,
Though not to love, yet, love, to tell me so,
As testy sick men, when their deaths be near,
8No news but health from their physicians know.
For if I should despair, I should grow mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee.
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
12Mad slanderers by mad ears believèd be.
That I may not be so, nor thou belied,
Bear thine eyes straight, though thy proud heart go wide.
The poet describes his heart as going against his senses and his mind in its determination to love.
In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
4Who in despite of view is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
8To any sensual feast with thee alone.
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,
12Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be.
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.
The poet accuses the woman of scorning his love not out of virtue but because she is busy making adulterous love elsewhere.
Love is my sin, and thy dear virtue hate,
Hate of my sin, grounded on sinful loving.
O, but with mine compare thou thine own state,
4And thou shalt find it merits not reproving.
Or if it do, not from those lips of thine,
That have profaned their scarlet ornaments
And sealed false bonds of love as oft as mine,
8Robbed others’ beds’ revenues of their rents.
Be it lawful I love thee as thou lov’st those
Whom thine eyes woo as mine importune thee;
Root pity in thy heart, that, when it grows,
12Thy pity may deserve to pitied be.
If thou dost seek to have what thou dost hide,
By self-example mayst thou be denied.
The poet expands on s. 142.9–10 (where he pursues a mistress who pursues others) by presenting a picture of a woman who chases a barnyard fowl while her infant chases after her.
Lo, as a careful huswife runs to catch
One of her feathered creatures broke away,
Sets down her babe, and makes all swift dispatch
4In pursuit of the thing she would have stay,
Whilst her neglected child holds her in chase,
Cries to catch her whose busy care is bent
To follow that which flies before her face,
8Not prizing her poor infant’s discontent;
So runn’st thou after that which flies from thee,
Whilst I, thy babe, chase thee afar behind.
But if thou catch thy hope, turn back to me
12And play the mother’s part: kiss me, be kind.
So will I pray that thou mayst have thy will,
If thou turn back and my loud crying still.
The poet’s three-way relationship with the mistress and the young man is here presented as an allegory of a person tempted by a good and a bad angel.
Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still.
The better angel is a man right fair,
4The worser spirit a woman colored ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my ⌜side,⌝
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
8Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
12I guess one angel in another’s hell.
Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
In this sonnet, perhaps written when Shakespeare was very young, the poet plays with the difference between the words “I hate” and “I hate not you.” (Note that the lines of the sonnet are in tetrameter instead of pentameter.)
Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate”
To me that languished for her sake;
4But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom,
8And taught it thus anew to greet:
“I hate” she altered with an end
That followed it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who, like a fiend,
12From heaven to hell is flown away.
“I hate” from hate away she threw,
And saved my life, saying “not you.”
The poet here meditates on the soul and its relation to the body, in life and in death.
Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
⌜Pressed with⌝ these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
4Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
8Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store.
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
12Within be fed, without be rich no more.
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
The poet describes his love for the lady as a desperate sickness.
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
4Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
8Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And, frantic-mad with evermore unrest,
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
12At random from the truth vainly expressed.
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
The poet once again (as in ss. 113, 114, 137, and 141) questions his own eyesight. Here, he describes his eyes’ image of his mistress as in conflict with his judgment and with the views of the world in general.
O me, what eyes hath love put in my head,
Which have no correspondence with true sight!
Or if they have, where is my judgment fled,
4That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
If it be not, then love doth well denote
8Love’s eye is not so true as all men’s “no.”
How can it? O, how can love’s eye be true,
That is so vexed with watching and with tears?
No marvel then though I mistake my view;
12The sun itself sees not till heaven clears.
O cunning love, with tears thou keep’st me blind,
Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find.
The poet argues that he has proved his love for the lady by turning against himself when she turns against him.
Canst thou, O cruel, say I love thee not
When I against myself with thee partake?
Do I not think on thee when I forgot
4Am of myself, all, tyrant, for thy sake?
Who hateth thee that I do call my friend?
On whom frown’st thou that I do fawn upon?
Nay, if thou lour’st on me, do I not spend
8Revenge upon myself with present moan?
What merit do I in myself respect
That is so proud thy service to despise,
When all my best doth worship thy defect,
12Commanded by the motion of thine eyes?
But, love, hate on, for now I know thy mind;
Those that can see thou lov’st, and I am blind.
The sonnet begins with the poet’s questioning why he should love what he knows he should hate; it ends with his claim that this love of her unworthiness should cause the lady to love him.
O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
4And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill
8That in my mind thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
12With others thou shouldst not abhor my state.
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.
The poet displays the sexually obsessive nature of his love.
Love is too young to know what conscience is;
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,
4Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove.
For, thou betraying me, I do betray
My nobler part to my gross body’s treason.
My soul doth tell my body that he may
8Triumph in love; flesh stays no farther reason,
But, rising at thy name, doth point out thee
As his triumphant prize. Proud of this pride,
He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
12To stand in thy affairs, fall by thy side.
No want of conscience hold it that I call
Her “love,” for whose dear love I rise and fall.
The poet turns his accusations against the woman’s inconstancy and oath-breaking against himself, accusing himself of deliberate blindness and perjury.
In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn
4In vowing new hate after new love bearing.
But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee
When I break twenty? I am perjured most,
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
8And all my honest faith in thee is lost.
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,
12Or made them swear against the thing they see.
For I have sworn thee fair; more perjured eye,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie.
This sonnet uses an ancient parable to demonstrate that love’s fire is unquenchable. It goes on to argue that only the mistress’s eyes can cure the poet.
Cupid laid by his brand and fell asleep.
A maid of Dian’s this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
4In a cold valley-fountain of that ground,
Which borrowed from this holy fire of Love
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath which yet men prove
8Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired
12And thither hied, a sad distempered guest,
But found no cure. The bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire—my mistress’ ⌜eyes.⌝
This sonnet, like s. 153, retells the parable of Cupid’s torch turning a fountain into a hot bath, this time to argue that the poet’s disease of love is incurable.
The little love-god, lying once asleep,
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vowed chaste life to keep
4Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire,
Which many legions of true hearts had warmed;
And so the general of hot desire
8Was, sleeping, by a virgin hand disarmed.
This brand she quenchèd in a cool well by,
Which from Love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
12For men diseased; but I, my mistress’ thrall,
Came there for cure, and this by that I prove:
Love’s fire heats water; water cools not love.
By W. Shakespeare.
London: for W. Iaggard, 1599.
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 untutored youth,
4Unskillful in the world’s false forgeries.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although I know my years be past the best,
I, smiling, credit her false-speaking tongue,
8Outfacing faults in love with love’s ill rest.
But wherefore says my love that she is young?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is a soothing tongue,
12And age in love loves not to have years told.
Therefore I’ll lie with love, and love with me,
Since that our faults in love thus smothered be.
Two loves I have, of comfort and despair,
That like two spirits do suggest me still.
My better angel is a man right fair,
4My worser spirit a woman colored ill.
To win me soon to hell my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
8Wooing his purity with her fair pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
For being both to me, both to each friend,
12I guess one angel in another’s hell.
The truth I shall not know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.