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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. The Fair Youth sequence was, according to Clinton Heylin, author of So Long As Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Sonnets, a collection of private poems circulated to a very small circle of people, 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. He contrasts that with the "Dark Lady" sonnets, which he believes were "portfolio" sonnets: the ones circulated somewhat widely in manuscript form, which were referred to by Francis Meres in 1599 as "sugared sonnets". 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). But I digress.

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.


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.



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kellyrfineman
Mar. 30th, 2014 10:47 pm (UTC)
Reading them all at once is quite a feat!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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