This post is part of my ongoing ruminations about particular Shakespeare Sonnets. Though I will likely not indefinitely continue to run through the poems in numerical order, I may continue to cover the early entries in sequence since they are so closely related.
Thus, after sharing some thoughts on Sonnet Number One here, I am proceeding on to Sonnet Number Two.
When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.
Another early entry in the “Fair Youth” sequence, this one also falls into the “Procreation “ subgroup. In other words, the message here continues to be that the worthy object of the sonnet should have children.
The argument in the first sonnet was that the young man owed it to the world to reproduce. Shakespeare moves on to a more selfish reason here; that is, the young man’s desire to leave something for posterity. The sonnet contends that having progeny will be a replacement for the lost glory of youth. In this case, the now older person will be living vicariously through his child or children. Such pleasures will warm the blood.
Once again, I am a bit puzzled as to the possible ironic connotations here. It could be that Shakespeare is playing with what can be construed as a silly notion, that one’s lost youth can be compensated by the youth and beauty of one’s offspring. Any reading of Shakespeare’s plays makes it clear that The Bard was well aware of the fact that children do not always turn out as expected.
Or it could be that the sonnet should be taken at face value; that is, there are some individuals that are so beautiful that their offspring would be as well, and the beauty of their children will compensate for the ravages of time. One might dismiss the possibility of a Goneril and Regan as the products of less than virtuous parents.
Googling this sonnet indicates that there is a fair amount of opinion out there that does take the sonnet as is, and some folks even accuse Shakespeare of being a eugenicist!
Shakespeare had a knack for expressing the dark side of life. Here, he describes the “proud livery” of youth yielding to “tatter'd weed, of small worth” and being observed through “deep-sunken eyes”. These are despairing images indeed. (A forty year old is described here! I suppose that folks were a bit less healthy back in 1609). If we are to take the advice of the sonnet seriously, we must conclude that here the poet is offering a solution to such despair.
Either way, Shakespeare has left us with some great poetry. He has also provided us with something to think about. The issues explored here endure, as does our appreciation of the sublime nature in which they are expressed.
Commentary on other Shakespeare Sonnets: