Shakespearean Sonnets

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? (Sonnet 18)
By William Shakespeare – 1564-1616

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.
  So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I usually post this poem every summer. It’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Sonnets are one of my favorite forms of poetry. I used to love teaching sonnets back when I taught British literature. I’ve always loved the intricacy of various forms of poetry. Sonnets may be my a favorite, but I also love villanelles. A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem written in iambic pentameter, employing one of several rhyme schemes (Italian/Petrarchan, English/Shakespearean, Spenserian, Miltonic, and a few others), and adhering to a tightly structured thematic organization. In contrast, a villanelle, also known as villanesque, is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain, but I’m not going to bore you with the intricacies of a villanelle. For me, the two masters of the sonnet form were Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose Sonnets from the Portuguese includes “How do I love thee?” (Sonnet 43).

Back to the poem above, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is arguably his most famous, and it is absolutely beautiful. I love the final lines:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

But did you know that Shakespeare also wrote a sonnet in contrast to Sonnet 18? It is known as “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (Sonnet 130). Instead of celebrating his mistress’s beauty, Shakespeare Sonnet 130 mocks the conventions of the showy and flowery courtly sonnets in its realistic portrayal of his mistress. In the three quatrains, he describes how homely and ordinary his mistress is, but in the final couplet, the speaker proclaims his love for his mistress by declaring that he makes no false comparisons, the implication being that other poets do precisely that (and what Shakespeare did in Sonnet 18).. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 aims to do the opposite, by indicating that his mistress is the ideal object of his affections because of her genuine qualities, and that she is more worthy of his love than the paramours of other poets who are more fanciful. As much as I like Sonnet 18, I also love Sonnet 130. It seems to say, “She might not be pretty or perfect, but he loves her more deeply because his love for her transcends everything else.”

It’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside. We all know those beautiful people who are perfection on the outside, but ugly on the inside. They may be nice to look at, but they certainly aren’t nice to be around. Then, there are the truly beautiful people. There are the rare ones who are both beautiful on the outside and the inside, but it’s the beauty on the inside that really matters.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
By William Shakespeare – 1564-1616

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
  And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
  As any she belied with false compare.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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