We are well overdue to have another Shakespeare sonnet on this blog, so today is the day. This is a love poem, but it is not a poem of falling in love, of hot passion and wild excitement. Rather it is a poem about keeping love alive as time passes, of continuing to find new ways to appreciate your lover as you get more, or too familiar with him or her. So this is dedicated to all those couples who stay together and keep on finding new ways to be in love.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah, yet doth beauty, like a dial hand,
Steal from his figure and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived;
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred:
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
The first line celebrates the endurance of love, if both people want it that way. The lover is also a friend, and the poet will never see her as old, even as they age together. The poem goes on to stress that three years have passed since the lover’s met, and Shakespeare methodically goes through descriptions of the changing seasons – three winters, three summers, three springs, three autumns, three Aprils and three Junes, each season acting to frame in a different way the beauty of the poet’s lover.
But then we see an interesting tension between heart and head, between knowledge and perception, fully acknowledged by Shakespeare. He acknowledges that the passage of time can transform and dim the beauty of youth, but his eye can be deceived by continuing to see the beauty which justifies his love.
The final two lines gloriously accentuate the strength of the poet’s love – the beauty of summer is dead in comparison with her beauty in his mind’s eye.
The genius of Shakespeare – surprising, challenging, dazzling – read, re-read and read again…
The Poetry Dude