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.
Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, written in iambic pentameter, with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG.
Discussion: 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 [only] 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.