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April 12th
2001

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Sonnet 1

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From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decrease,
His tender heir might bear his memory.
But, thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's 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.

Shakespeare's sonnet sequence begins with a series of 27 poems urging the young man with whom he is in love to get married and to have children, so that he will leave the world a copy of his beauty, which will therefore not suffer the ravages of time.

The first two lines of this first sonnet present this theme: "From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty's rose might never die...."

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Sonnet 2

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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 tattered 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 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.

In This Sonnet the bard encourages his lover to sire a child so that his beauty may be preserved forever.

The equation of treasure with semen (a well known Renaissance pun) is nearly explicit in this Sonnet.

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Sonnet 3

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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 uneared 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 shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
          But if thou live, remembered not to be,
          Die single, and thine image dies with thee.

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Sonnet 4

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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:
That acceptable audit canst thou leave?
          Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,
          Which, used, lives th'executor to be.

The poet blames his lover "For having traffic with thyself alone," for "abusing" bounteous largess. What could he possibly have surprised his young friend doing?

Shakespeare's suggestions to the young man sometimes turn into accusations that he is hoarding the beauty which he was lent, and therefore abusing the lease. In this regard, he addresses the young man as "Unthrifty loveliness" and "Profitless userer."

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Sonnet 5

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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 checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'ersnowed and bareness everywhere.
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 distilled, though they with winter meet,
          Lose but their show. Their substance still lives sweet.

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Sonnet 6

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Then let not winter's ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled.
Make sweet some vial, treasure thou some place
With beauty's treasure, ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan.
That's for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one.
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee.
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart
Leaving thee living in posterity?
          Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
          To be death's conquest and make worms thine heir.

Here the poet again implores his formerly "profitless usurer" to a more fertile form of usury. Once again, the equation of treasure with semen ("treasure" was a code word for "semen" in Shakespearian times) is nearly explicit in this Sonnet.

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