Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Shakespeare

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Sonnet 1—From fairest creatures we desire increase

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His 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,
Thy self 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,
And 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 first of the 126 sonnets comprising the "young man" or "fair youth" cycle, Sonnet 1 introduces a recurrent theme of this broad grouping, that of the natural course of time eradicating human beauty through eventual death, and a solution to this quandary: reproduction through procreation. Here as in the next eleven sonnets, the narrator urges the young man for whom he has developed a passionate affection to marry and have children so that his qualities will live on in his offspring. The first quatrain (four lines) of this sonnet state a general principle, that "we" (meaning human beings in general) seek the regeneration of "fair creatures" through the breeding of their best qualities in their heirs. The second and third lines of the sonnet move from the general to the particular as the narrator rebukes the young man for his failure to marry and have children. This charge culminates in the horrid image of the young man "eating his mess" (as pagan gods of ancient myth often did), devouring his potential posterity and the beauty they would embody by refusing to leave a vestige of himself behind for the world to consume. The figurative language of the poem is dissonant. It combines the organic with the mechanical: the "rose" of nature, the young man's "bud" and the "flame" of his spirit are set in a framework of increase and decrease. The poem contains startling contradictions, including the notion of a "fresh ornament," which culminate in the oxymoron of the young man being a "tender chorl," the word "churl" connoting anything but tenderness and usually reserved for ill-natured, old misers. The sonnet also introduces the reader to the narrator of all the sonnets as a mature poet (significantly older than the individual whom he addresses) who is quite willing to employ sophistry to gain his unstated, selfish ends. Thus, he tells the youth that by having children he will preserve "his memory," but this is not something the young man himself will enjoy (no trace of his memory surviving death) but rather something that others will enjoy. Here, as elsewhere, he attempts to manipulate and persuade through bogus arguments. In the end, the reader recognizes that the youth is not a foe to himself but an object of desire who refuses to do what the narrator wants him to do.

Sonnet 6—Then let not winter's ragged hand deface

Then let not winter's ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With 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 thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death's conquest and make worms thine heir.

Sonnet 6 occurs in the same dramatic situation as Sonnet 1 and explores the same general theme—that of time defiling beauty by bringing on death. The first quatrain does not establish a general argument; instead, it moves immediately to the particulars of the young man's situation as a beautiful young man now in the summer of his life. Oddly, while winter is personified, summer is relegated into a conventional modifier, suggesting an inequality in which the destructive former is more actively...

(The entire section is 11,086 words.)