This podcast did not upload to iTunes originally. I’m reposting in the hopes that I’ve corrected the problem. Apologies from the Bard Brawl.
This week, we’re continuing with the next six sonnets in Shakespeare’s cycle, sonnets 12 to 17. As always, these sonnets are read by our lovely volunteer sonneteers.
So, why have we arbitrarily decided to end our recording with sonnet 17? Because (as those who have been following along will know) these first 17 of Shakespeare’s sonnets are generally lumped together because they are all addressed to an unknown young nobleman and written to encourage him to go forth and multiply.
This group of 17 sonnets has since been given the oh-so-poetic name of “procreation sonnets” by Shakespearean scholars.
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
Argument: When I look at the signs of time’s passage like the sky darkening as the sun sets, or leaves falling from trees when winter’s coming, it makes me think about your beauty. let’s be honest: you’re not getting any younger, and sooner than you think, you’ll be dead and gone. But, beauty grows as fast as it fades. Don’t leave yourself defenseless against the passage of time – have some kids!
O, that you were yourself! but, love, you are
No longer yours than you yourself here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give.
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination: then you were
Yourself again after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O, none but unthrifts! Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so.
Argument: You’re not going to be around forever so you should give away some of your good looks away. You’re really only leasing your beauty – you’ll lose it unless you can find someone to inherit it. And seeing as you inherited it from your father who took good care of it, make sure to have a son who can be thankful to you for having kept your family attractiveness in near-mint condition.
Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.
Argument: Listen, I can’t predict the future by looking at the stars, the planets or the weather. But, I can see in your eyes that truth and beauty go hand in hand. So, if you won’t have any kids then I can predict this: truth and beauty will die when you die. (And that’s bad.)
When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.
Argument: Everything that grows is perfect and ripe for just a few moments, and appearances are often deceiving. Also, the same sun watches over both plants and people. So, when I see that you are fresh-looking and beautiful and will be always, I need to remind myself that this is not really the case: time and decay are killing you even as we speak. But, while time takes away your youth and beauty, I give it back to you in my poetry!
But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?
And fortify yourself in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rhyme?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens yet unset
With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers,
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:
So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this, Time’s pencil, or my pupil pen,
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair,
Can make you live yourself in eyes of men.
To give away yourself keeps yourself still,
And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.
Argument: Why don’t you wage war with time properly and find a better way to defeat it than to rely on my poetry? There are plenty of women right now who would love to have your kids which, let’s face it, make better duplicates than paintings. My poetry just isn’t going to be good enough, man. You need to use your own… er, pen to create a copy of yourself.
Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven 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 touch’d earthly faces.’
So should my papers yellow’d with their age
Be scorn’d like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.
Argument: No one’s going to believe my poems about you in the future even if it’s filled with details about just how awesome you are. Really, my poems will leave out way more than they can show. They’ll just think I made all of this stuff up. Unless one of your descendants were around so they could see that you live again: in your son’s life and in my kick-ass poems!
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