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2.56: Selected Sonnets

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    When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,

    And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

    Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,

    Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held;

    Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,

    Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,

    To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,

    Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

    How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,

    If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine

    Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’

    Proving 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.


    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,

    And 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,

    Borne 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

    And die as fast as they see others grow;

    And nothing ’gainst Time’s scythe can make defence

    Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence


    O! that you were your self; but, love you are

    No longer yours, than you your self here live:

    Against this coming end you should prepare,

    And your sweet semblance to some other give:

    So should that beauty which you hold in lease

    Find no determination; then you were

    Yourself again, after yourself’s decease,

    When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.

    Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,

    Which husbandry in honour might uphold,

    Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day

    And 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.


    When I consider every thing that grows

    Holds in perfection but a little moment,

    That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows

    Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

    When I perceive that men as plants increase,

    Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky,

    Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,

    And 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

    To 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.


    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,

    And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

    And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

    And every fair from fair sometime declines,

    By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:

    But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

    Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

    Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

    When 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.


    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,

    Then 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:

    How 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

    As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.

    Presume not on th’ heart when mine is slain,

    Thou gav’st me thine not to give back again.


    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,

    Whose 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,

    O’ercharg’d with burthen of mine own love’s might.

    O! let my looks be then the eloquence

    And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,

    Who plead for love, and look for recompense,

    More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.

    O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:

    To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.


    When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes

    I all alone beweep my outcast state,

    And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

    And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

    Featur’d like him, like him with friends possess’d,

    Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,

    With what I most enjoy contented least;

    Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,

    Haply I think on thee,—and then my state,

    Like to the lark at break of day arising

    From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

    For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings

    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


    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;

    All 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 blam’d, if thou thyself deceivest

    By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.

    I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,

    Although thou steal thee all my poverty;

    And yet, love knows, it is a greater grief

    To 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.


    Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

    Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;

    But you shall shine more bright in these contents

    Than unswept stone, besmear’d 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

    The 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

    That wear this world out to the ending doom.

    So, till the judgment that yourself arise,

    You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.


    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

    From 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,

    If 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;

    But 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.


    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

    And 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 learned’s wing

    And 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,

    And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;

    But thou art all my art, and dost advance

    As high as learning, my rude ignorance.


    Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,

    And like enough thou know’st thy estimate,

    The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing:

    My 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,

    And 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,

    Comes home again, on better judgement making.

    Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter,

    In sleep a King, but waking no such matter.


    Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness;

    Some say thy grace is youth and gentle sport;

    Both grace and faults are lov’d of more and less:

    Thou mak’st faults graces that to thee resort.

    As on the finger of a throned queen

    The basest jewel will be well esteem’d,

    So are those errors that in thee are seen

    To truths translated, and for true things deem’d.

    How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,

    If like a lamb he could his looks translate!

    How many gazers mightst thou lead away,

    If 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.


    When in the chronicle of wasted time

    I see descriptions of the fairest wights,

    And beauty making beautiful old rime,

    In 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 express’d

    Even 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,

    They 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.


    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,

    And beauty slander’d 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,

    But is profan’d, 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,

    Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:

    Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,

    That every tongue says beauty should look so.


    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;

    If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

    I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,

    But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

    And in some perfumes is there more delight

    Than 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,—

    My 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.


    Whoever hath her wish, thou hast thy ‘Will,’

    And ‘Will’ to boot, and ‘Will’ in over-plus;

    More than enough am I that vex’d thee still,

    To 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,

    And 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’

    One 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.’


    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 untutor’d youth,

    Unlearned 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;

    On 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,

    And 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 flatter’d be.


    Two loves I have of comfort and despair,

    Which like two spirits do suggest me still:

    The better angel is a man right fair,

    The worser spirit a woman colour’d 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,

    Wooing his purity with her foul pride.

    And whether that my angel be turn’d fiend,

    Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;

    But being both from me, both to each friend,

    I 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.

    This page titled 2.56: Selected Sonnets is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Bonnie J. Robinson & Laura Getty (University of North Georgia Press) .

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