Tag Archives: procreation

“Sonnet 17: Who will believe my verse in time to come” by William Shakespeare


Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were filled 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 touched earthly faces.”
So should my papers yellowed with their age,
Be scorned like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be termed a poet’s rage
And stretched meter of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice, in it and in my rhyme.

This is the last of the procreation sonnets, where Shakespeare is entreating the fair youth to have children. I got a real sense of the finality of his pleas here. It is like a last-ditch effort, where he asserts that unless the youth marries and raises a family, then the bard’s sonnets will have all been for naught.

Maybe it is because I went to see the new James Bond film, “Spectre,” last week, but the last line made me think of the early Bond film, “You Only Live Twice.” I personally believe in reincarnation, so I believe that you live many lifetimes. But if you do not accept the tenet of reincarnation, then there is some wisdom in the final line of this sonnet. You live two times: the first is your physical life, and the second is the memory kept alive either through procreation or through art. It seems here that Shakespeare wanted to cover both bases for his fair youth.

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful day.


Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 16: But wherefore do not you a mightier way” by William Shakespeare

Astronomical clock at Hampton Court Palace (tudorhistory.org).

Astronomical clock at Hampton Court Palace (tudorhistory.org).

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.

This is yet another one of Shakespeare’s fair youth/procreation sonnets. What I like about this one, though, is the incorporation of the idea of art as a way of achieving immortality and essentially Shakespeare’s rejection of that idea.

Since the Epic of Gilgamesh, we have seen heroes striving to attain immortality through deeds which are kept alive through stories and poetry. Obviously, this was still something that was sought after in Shakespeare’s day.

In the opening two lines, we see that the youth is seeking to ensure he is remembered by making war on Time. The two means that he uses are paintings, symbolized by the “painted counterfeit,” and poetry, symbolized by “my barren rhyme.” By claiming that the poem is barren, Shakespeare is implying that a poem does not ensure continuity of being as well as procreation.

My favorite section of this sonnet is the following:

So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this, Time’s pencil, or my pupil pen,

What I find so brilliant about this is that “lines” is actually a triple entendre. Lines refer to the lines of poetry written in the sonnet. The word also refers to the lines being drawn for a portrait. And finally, “lines” also refers to lineage kept alive through childbirth.


Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 15: When I consider every thing that grows” by William Shakespeare

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

1579 drawing of the Great Chain of Being from Didacus Valades

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.

So I really enjoyed this sonnet. The imagery that Shakespeare employs really connected with me.

This falls into the category of “fair youth” sonnets and is one of Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets. What struck me as different in this sonnet is his entreating to the youth to become a father is much more subdued than in his other ones, where he sometimes vehemently urges the youth to procreate. This one is much more subtle, only claiming that he perceives that “men as plants increase,” simply implying that reproduction is natural.

But the part of this poem that I found most interesting is lines 3 and 4:

That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;

This echoes the famous line from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage.” But it also implies a connection between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm, an idea that was reflected in the concept of the Great Chain of Being (see The Elizabethan World Picture by E.M.W. Tillyard). Essentially, everything is connected. What happens on earth is a reflection of what happens in the heavens, and vice versa. So according to English Renaissance thought, what happens on earth is reflected in the heavens.

I’d like to close with my thoughts on the ending of this poem. Time is the great enemy of life, and will ultimately bring old age, decay, and death to all of us. But Shakespeare tempers this with a positive image. Through his poetry, he grafts the fair youth anew. What he is saying is that through his poems, the youth will remain forever young.

Thanks for stopping by and have an inspired day!


Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 14: Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck” by William Shakespeare

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

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.

This is another one of the fair youth sonnets where Shakespeare entreats the young man to procreate. I really liked this one because of Shakespeare’s use of astrology and prognostication as metaphors.

Here the speaker claims to be able to see the future, although not from the conventional means of divination. The speaker claims to see the future reflected in the eyes of the fair youth, which are described as “constant stars.” The young man is the embodiment of truth and beauty in the poet’s opinion and the poet claims that if the young man would relent and accept his paternal responsibility of fathering children, then those children will also embody truth and beauty. Likewise, should the youth decide against having children, then the poet foresees an end to truth and beauty. It is almost an apocalyptic vision, where the phrase “doom and date” represents doomsday.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of the poet as a seer or visionary. I love that in this sonnet Shakespeare draws from this idea. I also find it interesting that emphasis is placed upon looking within a person, through the eyes which are the windows to the soul, in order to see a person’s future.

This poem works for me. The metaphors and symbolism are inspiring and the words themselves are very fluid and lyrical. It’s definitely one of my favorite fair youth sonnets.


Filed under Literature

“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.


Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 12: When I do count the clock that tells the time” by William Shakespeare – Reference to the John Barleycorn Myth


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 defense
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

This sonnet is another one of the “fair youth” poems where Shakespeare entreats an unnamed young man to fulfill his duty by procreating and becoming a father and husband. Most of the metaphors in this poem employ images of nature to contrast youth and old age, such as “brave day” and “hideous night,” or the barren trees as opposed to the leafy, shade-giving ones. But there is one symbol that Shakespeare uses this poem that I found particularly interesting: barley.

Barley is not overtly mentioned in this sonnet, but it is implied in the following two lines.

And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,

Barley was an important crop in the British Isles. So much so that it became associated with the resurrection myth of John Barleycorn. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this myth, here is a short summary.

John Barleycorn is a British folksong. The character of John Barleycorn in the song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.

Kathleen Herbert draws a link between the mythical figure Beowa (a figure stemming from Anglo-Saxon paganism that appears in early Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies whose name means “barley”) and the figure of John Barleycorn. Herbert says that Beowa and Barleycorn are one and the same, noting that the folksong details the suffering, death, and resurrection of Barleycorn, yet also celebrates the “reviving effects of drinking his blood.”

The idea of a grain god who dies, is buried, and is reborn as the current year’s crop dates back at least to dynastic Egyptian myths of the god Osiris. In the Coffin Texts, the deceased person states: “I am Osiris. I have come forth and entered into thee, I have flourished in thee, I have grown in thee, I have fallen into thee, I have fallen on my side. The gods live by me. I live and grow as Neper [Corn], whom the august gods bring forth that I may cover Geb [the earth], whether I be alive or dead. I am barley, I am not destroyed…” Elsewhere in the Coffin Texts, the formula of Becoming Barley of Lower Egypt states that the deceased “is this bush of life [barley] which went forth from Osiris to grow on the ribs of Osiris and to nourish the common people, which makes the gods divine and spiritualizes the spirits…”

(Source: Wikipedia)

So essentially, Shakespeare is using the resurrection myth popular in England to encourage the young man to have children. Just as the grain god is reborn through the burial (planting) of the seed, so must humans sow the seeds of rebirth to continue the cycle of life, both physically and spiritually.

I have to say that I really like this sonnet, much more so than the previous eleven, mainly because of Shakespeare’s use of folklore and mythology. To conclude, I will add a musical interpretation of the John Barleycorn myth that is one of my all-time favorites. Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by.

Leave a comment

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 11: As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou growest” by William Shakespeare – A Promotion of Ethnic Cleansing?


As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou growest
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestowest
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.
Herein lives wisdom, beauty and increase:
Without this, folly, age and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom Nature hath not made for store,
Harsh featureless and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow’d she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

I had mixed feelings about this poem when I read it this morning over my first cup of coffee. But before I delve into why this poem troubled me, I figured I’d talk about the basic theme and metaphors.

This is another of the “fair youth” sonnets, where Shakespeare is entreating an unnamed young man to procreate. The opening lines describe how a child will grow at the same rate as a parent ages. The child’s physical and mental development progresses at the same pace as the parent’s abilities decreases. I suspect this was very important at a time that lacked elder care and care for the elderly was generally the responsibility of the children.

Lines 5 and 6 address heredity:

Herein lives wisdom, beauty and increase:
Without this, folly, age and cold decay:

I like this image. For me, the idea of wisdom, beauty, and increase describes the parents’ ability to pass on to their children what they have learned in life, an appreciation for art and beauty in life, and an increase in wealth, both material and spiritual. Without a family to share these things with, all we have will atrophy and decay along with us in our later years.

So now we get to the point that I find troubling.

Let those whom Nature hath not made for store,
Harsh featureless and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow’d she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:

So I understand what Shakespeare is getting at here. He is saying that if the beautiful and artistically creative and intelligent people of the world failed to procreate, then the world would become dominated by those who would not be in as much of a position to advance culture and society. But looking at this from a 21st-century perspective, we can see how this type of ideology has led to abuse and human rights violations throughout history. Racist and ethnocentric propaganda consistently depicts “others” as breeding like vermin and threatening to overrun the purer population, while at the same time encouraging those of the desired race to procreate and ensure their continued existence and dominance. So when I read a line claiming that those who are “harsh featureless and rude” should “barrenly perish,” I cannot help but feeling horrified at the idea that the value of one class of people is elevated and preferred above another.

While I concede that Shakespeare probably did not have ethnic cleansing in mind when he penned this sonnet, it’s hard to read this today and not have those images conjured. Let’s just hope that the “wisdom, beauty and increase” of tolerance and acceptance will occur in our lives, and that hatred and intolerance will “barrenly perish.”


Filed under Literature