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
Which 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;
Such 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
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice, in it, and in my rhyme.
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) wrote his sonnets over a period of eight years, between 1593 and 1601. The first published edition of them appeared in 1609 and consisted of 154 poems. The first 17 sonnets, of which this is the last, are sometimes referred to as the “procreation sonnets” because they all suggest that the young man being addressed should marry and have children. The phrase “fresh numbers” in line six means “admirable poetry.” The poet will not fully extol the subject’s virtues, the sonnet tells us, because if he did no one would believe that a young man of such beauty, virtue, and grace actually existed: the author’s songs of praise would be scorned as wild exaggerations. At the poem’s conclusion the poet urges him to procreate so that in future generations he will live twice: in Shakespeare’s sonnets and in that living child.