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Well that’s finally finished, and what a birthday week it was. It feels slightly indulgent to take up so much blog space with something so silly, but then again, are 400th birthdays silly? They only come around once, after all!

I hope you enjoyed reading some of these reflections on the sonnets but more importantly, I hope you felt inspired to pick up an edition to peruse on your own, at your own pace, in the little nooks and crannies of your day.

In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to collect a select few images of the many thousands of editions that have been printed since 1609. Keep on the lookout for the one that grabs your eye.

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade.”

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The little Love-god lying once asleep
Laid by his side his heart-inflaming brand,
Whilst many nymphs that vow’d chaste life to keep
Came tripping by; but in her maiden hand
The fairest votary took up that fire
Which many legions of true hearts had warm’d;
And so the general of hot desire
Was sleeping by a virgin hand disarm’d.
This brand she quenched in a cool well by,
Which from Love’s fire took heat perpetual,
Growing a bath and healthful remedy
For men diseased; but I, my mistress’s thrall,
Came there for cure, and by that I prove,
Love’s fire heats water, water cools not love.

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Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah, do not, when my heart hath ‘scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquer’d woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might,
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.

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Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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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 check’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.

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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 check’d with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where:
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 distill’d, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

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So oft have I invoked thee for my Muse
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine and born of thee:
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;
But thou art all my art and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.

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As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burthen of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast;
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

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sonnets-fronticpieceA bit of a departure from the usual fare, but in honor of the 400th birthday of the first edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets I thought it would be fun to write about a different one each day this week. These aren’t going to be essays, really — just the kind of responses Jess and I always write, straight from the hip.

So much has been said about the Sonnets that I don’t need to add anything — no contextual stuff or hypothesizing about the poems’ objects. Who really cares who the dark lady was, or the youth, or the whoever? They’re poems — maybe the most jewel-like and exquisite poems we’re lucky enough to have. They’re packed, speaking to feelings we’ve all had in such simple phrases they sound like coded messages right from the subconscious. And they’re fun, with bouncy rhythms and that dangerously nursery-like Elizabethan ABAB rhyme scheme that only the most talented writers can drive towards literature without veering off the cliff into aphorism.

I’ll break my own rule about contextual stuff just this once, to say that the one theory of these I like the best (I think it was Wordsworth’s) is that they are purely Shakespeare’s thoughts, without the filter of characters in a play. So much of what he wrote was based on history and folklore that I like to believe the sonnets were his respite, a chance to write directly about what he had felt and experienced himself in life. For all our kvetching about Shakespeare’s thin biography, I think we can learn all we need right here, and through them learn a little about ourselves.

I hope you’ll take this anniversary week as an excuse to grab your favorite pocket-sized edition and give yourself a couple hours of a sunny afternoon to read a handful of Sonnets and let them sink in, play with them for a bit, and reap the rewards it’ll bring to the rest of your day.

Jessica’s Reading

Jesse’s Reading

Jesse and Jessica are Both Reading

Devin’s Reading