“Sonnet 13: O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are” by William Shakespeare

Pavel Korin

Pavel Korin

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.

This is another of the first 17 sonnets that deal with the theme of procreation and address the fair youth. What strikes me as different in this one are the declarations of love in the first and thirteenth lines. I do not get the sense that this is anything sexual, but more of a paternal love. I suspect that the speaker sees himself as a father figure to the youth he is advising. In fact, in the final line where he tells the youth “You had a father: let your son say so,” I get the impression he is referring to himself as the father. Also, the fact that the speaker refers to the youth’s father in past tense implies that the actual father is deceased, supporting the idea that the speaker envisions himself as a surrogate father.

Shakespeare employs some of the metaphors we have seen in the previous sonnets on procreation: the transfer of beauty to your children, winter as a symbol for old age and death, and the continuation of one’s lineage as represented by the house symbol.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to ““Sonnet 13: O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are” by William Shakespeare

  1. You’re right, Jeff, it IS different. Rather than being romantic love it does seem to be paternal in variety. Nice to see your analysis here. Shakespeare is such a ‘Great’ in the literary field; I can read and reread his works again and again.

  2. “And your sweet semblance to some other give:
    So should that beauty which you hold in lease”

    I enjoyed these verses as they reminded me of Shakespeare’s Sonnet My mistress eyes … (I think it is Sonnet 130).
    I second your statements and I believe like you do that this is sort of paternal love and not a sexual feeling.
    Great share, dear Jeff! All the best to you. Aquileana 😀

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