Sonnet Two

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,

Will 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 eye,

Were 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”

Proving his beauty by succession thine.

This were to be new made when though art old,

And see thy blood warm when thou fall’st cold.

Here the motivation for children is laid out plain, and the next midnight feeding, teen-aged eye roll, or the piercing public voice saying the most embarrassing things will help you remember.  Children are for your old age.  Your children will reflect your beauty, remind you of your lusty days.  When your brow is wrinkled, their youth will make you feel young.  They’ll warm your blood when you’re old and cold.

The first four lines set the scene.  Using farming as a metaphor Shakespeare defines the brow as a field.  Winter (old age) is digging deep trenches in the field.  Youth’s livery will be a tattered weed.  Farming, like the seasons in the first sonnet, is a good metaphor for the life cycle.  The seed can be the unborn infant; the seedling the youth; the mature plant the young man; the dying plant the old man.  Of course even the urbanites in Shakespeare’s time were closer to the farming life cycle than we are today.  This metaphor would have been obvious to anyone reading in Shakespeare’s day.  When you’re old people will ask you: what were you like when you were young?  I don’t think Shakespeare means any hypothetical loving grandchildren here.  I think he means the judgmental societal matrons who will weigh your worth by who you married and what he did and how many children.  These are people asking the ancient question: “Why should we haul your decrepit self around, care for you when you can’t?  Of what worth are you to us?  Why shouldn’t we leave you to the wolves?”

Shakespeare concludes by saying if you had a child, this concern would be moot.  Any child of your would be as pretty as you were and obviously your child.  He shall stand for you, “sum your count”, and warm your blood.  Because your child is of you, he shall be you.

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Sonnet One

From fairest creatures we desire increase

That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,

But as the riper should by time decrease,

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 makest waste in niggarding:

Pity the world, or else this glutton be,

To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

This sonnet contains a treat: “Pity the world, or else this glutton be”.

The first rhyming pair of words appears lazy.  Shakespeare rhymes “increase” with “decrease”.  “Crease” being the root word which he has rhymed with itself.  When reading a poem ones eyes are drawn in circle to remind you of the rhyming pattern.  The first rhyme was “increase”. What followed was “decrease”.  There the rhyme reinforces the message of the first four lines: increase is followed by decrease.  The message of Shakespeare is that universal hope for immortality, or that the decrepitude of age will not affect us.  The “desire . . . that . . . beauty’s rose will never die,” is encoded in the first two lines and is tempered by the possibility that a child, in your likeness, an heir, might live on after you and remember you, in the next two lines.

The next four lines lay out Shakespeare’s conflict with the addressee of the poem.  He turns from the universal wish for immortality, and fear of aging, to the more personal.  If he had a camera, he would have zoomed in: wide screen of the globe, close up on her face.  She is turned inward, onto herself, and that is dangerous.  It smacks of vanity.  Her flame burns with “self-substantial fuel” she feeds on herself, like some anorexic demon.  In this case I think that the word “contracted” is not the legal definition, but the archaic one: marriage.  This poor self-centered, self-feeding woman has also married herself.  Even our liberal modern minds are shaken by that probability.

The eighth line is a compact pattern of repetition:  “Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.”  The only word in this line over one syllable is the last, and we mostly elide it, and pronounce it with just one syllable.  Shakespeare says that her self-marriage, and self-centeredness has made her her own worst enemy, that she is too cruel to herself.  He has a solution though.

We see more centering inward turning imagery in the next four lines.  “Within thine own bud buriest thy content.”  We know what kind of bud to picture from the second line: a rose.  A rosebud is tightly formed, and seems on inspection to turn in on itself revealing no secrets.  A careful dissection of it reveals a spiral petal formation around the sexy center.  Just at this time, in her youth, the woman is a “fresh ornament,” but the warning comes again like the rosebud, in concentric tightening circles.  First the four line that laid it out, now again in a two line repetition.

The next line can be read in two ways, both tragic.  Either the woman is the sole herald of spring, or she will only live long enough to see one spring.  Shakespeare’s answer: turn outward, share yourself (especially with him).  Using the seasons as a time line of a person’s life is a common trope in literature, of course.  Spring is callow youth, summer the era of parenthood, fall the beginning of old age, and winter, the long decline into death.  You would want your spring and summer to be of equal length.

Penny wise and pound foolish is the meaning of the next line:  “And tender churl makest waste in niggarding.”  A churl is an impolite and mean-spirited person, or a miser.  Niggarding of course is not from a root meaning black , but is instead meaning stingy.  A young miser wastes the point of stinginess.

The last two lines remind us of the eating theme in lines 5-8.  Don’t cloister yourself.  Turn outward, give the world its due.  The last line makes a full circle of the famine in line 7.  Graves, when open look like the mouth of the world and eat the dead when they’re closed up.  “To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.”  If you keep cloistered and turned in on yourself, then the grave and you will become the same.  The overfull graveyards of Yorik’s day give this heavy weight.  She will die.  The maw of the earth, the grave, will eat her, and later she and the grave will eat another.  Happily, all this is avoidable: marry and have children, preferably with the author!

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What’s Up With This?

My goal for this blog is self-centered.

I hope that by committing to blog entries I can hold myself to the goal to read each of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

My hardbound copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare numbers them at 154.  However, I will be reading and re-tying them here from the Project Gutenberg edition so that I can read them on my very portable Kindle!

Each entry will include a copy of the sonnet in question, and my analysis, and interpretation of it in essay form.

I will probably not do a great deal of research for three reasons: one, ProQuest and I have agreed to disagree for the continued health of all involved; two, Mrs. Miller isn’t giving me a grade for this though she is welcome to read it; and three, siting sources isn’t going to help me read 154 sonnets!

This site might include more stuff as I go along.  I might read everything we have by Shakespeare.  I might read books about Shakespeare.  I might write about that here.  Who knows?

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