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William Shakespeare

Sonnets to W.H.
(who some belive is Willie Hughes, a boy-actor on the Elizabethan stage
with whom the playwright had a long affair.)

William Shakespeare

Sonnet 2
In which the bard encourages his lover to sire
a child so that his beauty may be preserved.

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.


Sonnet 4
The poet blames his lover “For having traffic with thyself alone,” for “abusing” bounteous largess.

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend

Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?

Nature’s bequest gives nothing, but doth lend,

And 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

So 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,

What acceptable audit canst thou leave?

Thy unus’d beauty must be tomb’d with thee,

Which used, lives th’ executor to be.


Sonnet 6
Here the poet again implores his formerly “profitless usurer” to a more fertile form of usury. [“Treasure” was a code word for “semen” in Shakespearian times.]

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface

In thee thy summer, ere thou be distill’d:

Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place

With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-kill’d.

That use is not forbidden usury;

Which happies those that pay the willing loan;

That’s for thyself to breed another thee,

Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;

Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,

If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee;

Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,

Leaving thee living in posterity?

Be not self-will’d, for thou art much too fair

To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.


Sonnet 20
In which the poet yields to women the body of his beloved, but not his heart.

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

With shifting change, as is false woman’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,

Which 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

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,

Mine be thy love, and thy love’s use their treasure.


Sonnet 120
We might as well be lovers, the poet seems to say,
since men think us that already.

’Tis better to be vile than vile esteem’d,

When not to be receives reproach of being;

And the just pleasure lost, which is so deem’d

Not 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,

Which 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;

By their rank thoughts my deeds must not be shown;

Unless this general evil they maintain,

All men are bad and in their badness reign.


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