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Sonnet 17 by William Shakespeare

It's Wednesday, which used to always mean Shakespeare 'round here, a tradition worthy of reviving. Today, I bring you Sonnet 17, one of the Fair Youth Sonnets aimed at encouraging the youth to reproduce. This one is a bit of a hybrid - a tribute to the beauty of the youth as well as an encouragement to him to beget an heir. It's placement where it is in the sequence of sonnets makes sense, as it shows a transition from the "go make a baby" poems to the "you live on in my poetry" poems that follow.

Sonnet 17
by William Shakespeare

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were filled with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heav'n 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 stretchèd metre of an antique song:
  But were some child of yours alive that time,
  You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.


My favorite lines in this sonnet are "If I could write the beauty of your eyes/And in fresh numbers number all your graces". *swoon*

The poem is, of course, a Shakespearean sonnet, written in iambic pentameter and rhymed ABABCDCDEFEFGG. (And yes, come and tomb would have been exact rhymes in Shakespeare's time, sounding (then) more like "comb" and "tome". *The More You Know*)

The first eight lines set up the premise of the poem: If I write a poem describing your beauty, people will think I lied, since nobody could look that fine. The turn comes in the next four lines, where the poet says "And they'd be right to scorn my poems as improbable fiction and think me mad", with a sharper final turn in the final couplet "Unless, of course, you had a descendant alive at that time, so they could see for themselves how lovely you were."



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