In our first ever Short Poems podcast, Daniel, Maya Pankalla and I discuss Shakespeare’s Sonnets 1 through 5.
(Bonus maple syrup fun facts from David Kandestin)
Listen to the podcast here.
Every week we cap off our recording with a sonnet. In this episode of the Bard Brawl, we gather some of them up and discuss the first five of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Join us as we take you through them and add our many voices to 400+ years of debate: just who are these things supposed to be addressed to? Are they even supposed to go together? Why should we care?
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’st flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.
Argument: We want beautiful creatures to reproduce so that when they age they leave behind a fresh, young replacement to carry on the legacy. But you’re so enamoured with yourself that you’ll end up denying us an offspring. If you keep this up, you’ll burn up all of your beauty by keeping it for yourself to look at.
When fourty 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 tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d 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 deserved 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.
Argument: When you’re old (apparently 40 meant something different then than now) your beauty will be a thing of the past. If anyone asks you where you’re beauty’s gone you’ll have nothing to say unless you have a child with whom to leave your beauty in trust. In this way you’ll still feel young even if you’re old.
Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose unear’d womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime:
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.
But if thou live, remember’d not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.
Argument: Tell your reflection that now is the time to sire another copy of yourself in the flesh. By keeping to your reflection you rob mothers of sons and daughters. After all, you are your mother’s reflection and she re-lives her youth through yours. If you don’t have any children whose looks will be the memory of yours, you’ll die alone and forgotten. (Weren’t these supposed to be about love or something?…)
Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy?
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free.
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thyself alone,
Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.
Then how, when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee,
Which, used, lives th’ executor to be.
Argument: Why do you store up your wealth of beauty? Nature doesn’t give out gifts but rather lends them. You should give back freely of what nature has given you. What account of your fortune can you give if you hoard your beauty? It will just be buried along with you, no one will remember you and you will have nothing to show for it. (Compare this sonnet with the character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice who is accused of hoarding both his money and his daughter.)
Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there;
Sap cheque’d with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where:
Then, were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distill’d though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
Argument: Just as the passage of time turned you from a boy into a man, it will keep passing until you reach your winter years and eventually die. Then, if you haven’t distilled your beautiful essence while it was still time, it will be snowed over and lost forever. But, if you pass your beauty on to another it will survive even though you won’t.
Next week the Brawlers begin a new play. Which one will it be? You’ll have to listen to find out!