Sonnet XVII, 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 metre of an antique song.
  But were some child of yours alive that time,
  You should live twice: in it, and in my rhyme.

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Some Shakespearian Scholars consider this sonnet to be a kind of nexus for sonnets I through XXVI, in which The Bard is addressing himself to a younger male friend.

Three themes run through this series: (with modern colloquial translations)

  1. Marry young ("don't end up like me")
  2. A promise that the youth will be immortalized in verse ("You're not really dead until you're forgotten")
  3. Proclamations of his beauty ("you're such a hottie"; or, for those of us still caught in the early 90s, "You're so money")

All three themes are stated clear as crystal in this one sonnet; examples, respective with the above list:

  1. (line 13): "But were some child..." (presuming ol' Bill is frowning upon accomplishing this end by way of illegitimacy)
  2. (line 1): "Who will believe my verse...", (line 9): "So should my papers..."
  3. (line 5,6): "beauty of your eyes... all your graces"

While it is only later in the series that sonnets actually addressed to women appear, I never claimed to be a Shakespeare scholar, plus the text is completely gender neutral, so I have no qualms about letting a girl swoon as I recite it for her.

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