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Sonnet 106 by William Shakespeare

This morning, Sonnet 106 by William Shakespeare. This sonnet is part of the Fair Youth sequence of poems. According to Clinton Heylin, author of So Long As Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shkespeare's Sonnets a book I purchased earlier this week (but have not yet finished), he believes that the "Dark Lady" sonnets were "portfolio" sonnets: the ones circulated somewhat widely in manuscript form, which were referred to by Francis Meres in 1599 as "sugared sonnets" (along with Sonnets 2 and 8, neither of which contains anything that would have appeared improper). According to Heylin, the "Dark Lady" sonnets were not all related to one specific human subject, but were actually a miscellany of sonnets that Shakespeare wrote with the intention of circulating them in manuscript form fairly widely (a common practice during that time period). Heylin believes that a second, extensive manuscript of more private poems - the "Fair Youth sonnets" - was circulated far more exclusively, in part because they might have been seen as scandalous, based on the ready inference from many of them that there was something potentially improper going on between Shakespeare and a member of the nobility.

As I said, I'm not finished Heylin's book yet, but it is pretty terrific and well-researched argument about the history and publication of Shakespeare's sonnets in 1609, which were almost certainly published without Shakespeare's consent and were therefore bootleg copies of the poems, much in the way that Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes were circulated in bootleg form for a number of years. (Yes, he makes the comparison to Dylan's recordings, which will, I am certain, appeal to at least jamarattigan and slatts.)

I recommend the book to those of you interested in the history of the sonnets and their publication. It is not, however, for those of you interested in sussing meaning out of the poems.

Sonnet 106
by William Shakespeare

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty's best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have expressed
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing.
  For we, which now behold these present days,
  Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

A Shakespearean sonnet, written in iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The first eight lines of this poem form one complete sentence, and convey the idea that old books that waxed eloquent about the appearance of ladies and knights were attempting, in their way, to describe the sort of beauty possessed by the Fair Youth. The volta, or turn, occurs in the ninth line, when Shakespeare opines that those earlier sorts of works therefore become, in a way, prophecies foretelling the Fair Youth's existence, "for they looked [] with divining eyes" but lacked the skill to sing the Fair Youth's actual worth. As is common with his sonnets, Shakespeare's final couplet turns his examination of the subject matter of the poem around in his hand again, moving a bit more deeply into what he's saying: Even those of us alive today lack sufficient language to adequately praise your beauty.

To which I say, damn - the Fair Youth must have been one fine-looking piece of manflesh indeed. Meanwhile, I hope you'll all enter my final contest for Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month, which is related to Shakespeare's poems.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 26th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
"damn - the Fair Youth must have been one fine-looking piece of manflesh indeed" :D

You. crack. me. up!

Another glorious sonnet. S. really knows how to chat up that fair youth. Talk about smooth! And bravo to Mr. Hetlin for the Dylan reference. :)
Jun. 26th, 2009 04:30 pm (UTC)
I call it as I see it. But if all the poets of the ages, including all those courtier poets, couldn't find words adequate to say how hot the Youth was, he must have been hot indeed. I thought of you and Kevin as soon as Heylin mentioned Dylan. (He's the author of Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades and Bootleg! The Rise and Fall of the Secret Recording Industry, so he has ample experience on which to draw in his Dylan and bootleg references.)
Jun. 30th, 2009 02:22 am (UTC)
I thought of you and Kevin as soon as Heylin mentioned Dylan...
Jun. 30th, 2009 03:10 am (UTC)
Re: I thought of you and Kevin as soon as Heylin mentioned Dylan...
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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