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Three sonnets for Shakespeare’s birthday

Both his birth and death are especially fitting

  • IV
  • 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 unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee,
  • Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.
  • V
  • Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
  • The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
  • Will play the tyrants to the very same
  • And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
  • For never-resting time leads summer on
  • To hideous winter and confounds him there;
  • Sap cheque’d with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
  • Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where:
  • Then, were not summer’s distillation left,
  • A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
  • Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
  • Nor it nor no remembrance what it was:
  • But flowers distill’d though they with winter meet,
  • Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
  • VI
  • 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 refigured 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.
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564–1616), a poet who needs no introduction on a poetry page, was (needless to say) the greatest writer of English verse — and one of the greatest poets of any language — to put pen to paper. According to historical records, Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, but to bestow on his biography the same symmetry with which he imbued his sonnets and his plays, most historians have accepted his birth and death on the same day, 52 years apart — April 23. Although his day of birth was based on an 18th-century mistake in scholarship, this date marking both his birth and death is especially fitting on the grave marker of England’s greatest poet, as it is also the day on which England celebrates its patron saint – St. George.

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  • IV
  • 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 unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee,
  • Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.
  • V
  • Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
  • The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
  • Will play the tyrants to the very same
  • And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
  • For never-resting time leads summer on
  • To hideous winter and confounds him there;
  • Sap cheque’d with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
  • Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where:
  • Then, were not summer’s distillation left,
  • A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
  • Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
  • Nor it nor no remembrance what it was:
  • But flowers distill’d though they with winter meet,
  • Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
  • VI
  • 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 refigured 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.
William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564–1616), a poet who needs no introduction on a poetry page, was (needless to say) the greatest writer of English verse — and one of the greatest poets of any language — to put pen to paper. According to historical records, Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564, but to bestow on his biography the same symmetry with which he imbued his sonnets and his plays, most historians have accepted his birth and death on the same day, 52 years apart — April 23. Although his day of birth was based on an 18th-century mistake in scholarship, this date marking both his birth and death is especially fitting on the grave marker of England’s greatest poet, as it is also the day on which England celebrates its patron saint – St. George.

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