Today marks the 400th anniversary of the first public publication of the Sonnets of William Shakespeare. Much mystery surrounds them, including who they were written for and whether or not Shakespeare even intended them to be made public.
I had a professor in grad school who made us memorize a sonnet a week. I really didn’t do a very good job of it; one of the reasons I was never a success as an actor is because I have trouble memorizing lines, and my taste in poetry runs closer to that of Emily Dickinson, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, and the folks at Burma Shave. I remember bits and pieces of the sonnets, and I can still recall, with prompting, most of the most famous one, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day….” But the one that struck me was this one:
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter’d weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.
Imagine thinking of forty as being “old.”
Whether or not he meant them for us, thanks anyway, Mr. Shakespeare.