Sunday, September 8, 2013

Shakespeare Sonnet Number 2

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:


The Bookworm said...

Well, now that you think of it Brian, this one is depressing. Having children so one's youth and beauty can live on through them. "Within thine own deep-sunken eyes"'s like the eyes are the mirrors to the soul, look deep enough and you can see a person's lost youth.
Happy Sunday!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - Ironic that this can be looked at as depressing when it was, at least on the surface meant to be a song of praise.

Suko said...

Interesting thoughts in this post! I'm going to take a look in my book shelves and see if I have a copy of the sonnets.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - They are also available online. As they are well past copyright they are free to read on a computer or to download on to a mobile device.

vb said...

interesting thoughts on that Brian, though it sounds grey on the periphery it seems to have greater meaning on the course of life..You have given interesting dimension making me to add this to my shelf and I have downloaded this too..thanks again!!!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi VB - Even though these Sonnets are short, like most things that Shakespeare wrote, they are rarely simple. Hence I think that there are often new perspectives to see them in.

Caroline said...

Definitely not simple. Isn't this the most famous of his sonnets? Or was it another one. One is more often quoted than others.
The idea that he writes about a 40year old is indeed striking, but that's how it was.

Heidi’sbooks said...

I love your reviews on Shakespeare's sonnets. Either I haven't read this one before or I read it in my college Shakespeare class and forgot. Thanks for the opportunity to read it in your post. Maybe 40 was old with life expectancy at that time and maybe he was having a mid-life philosophical discussion with himself. My husband married me near age 40. He says that it made such a difference for him at work--it gave him an incentive to work hard for the children's benefit. Maybe on the surface Shakespeare felt that at least he could have children to pass things onto, but underneath he was a little sarcastic as well. Children are a comfort, but he probably didn't want to be old!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - I am actually not sure about which Sonnet is most famous but this one gets quoted a lot.

i do read of folks who lived in this period living to be old and supposedly healthy. I guess we do not know how they exactly looked as portraits could be deceiving. I suppose that holding up one's appearance past forty was a rarity.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Heidi - Thanks for the good word.

Indeed children can be a comfort and a motivator. The reasoning explored in this particular Sonnet seems to be vicarious living through one's children which seems to be a little different.

James said...

Once again I discover another intersection between your reading interests and mine. I am impressed with your commentary on this sonnet of Shakespeare. I return to his collection of sonnets from time to time and read them at random continually finding further meaning in those I may have previously ignored or dismissed. I sometimes share one with no comment. But almost three years ago I shared two of my favorites in memory of a dear friend (

Brian Joseph said...

Hi james - thanks for the kind words and thanks for the link.

One can indeed find much meaning to these poems. I agree that going back to them after months or years opens up new vistas.

LMR said...

Am I the only one who finds the expression 'lusty days' hilarious?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Miguel - I did not really think about it before, but come to think of it, that is a funny expression.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Do you read poetry while listening to music. I read your blog and the sonnet while listening to Mazzy Star. I felt they went rather well together. I've never been good at analyzing Shakespeare although I enjoy reading him. Mostly I enjoy watching well done productions of his plays.
I appreciate your analysis. Thanks for the review.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - I kind of see what I am doing here as less analysis and more of just writing about what I am thinking when I read these poems.

Mazzy Star is good music to listening to. However I find that I cannot read while listening to music one distracts me from the other.

Thanks for stopping by!

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Loving the cover. I have to agree with Naida in that I also find this quite depressing. I mean 'Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held' - as if we need reminding.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Petty - That is indeed a great cover.

When I sum up all his work, I think that Shakespeare is not at all optimistic. Thus the depressing nature of this and many of his other works.

JaneGS said...

Unless, of course, the "fair child" is a literary work, ala Jane Austen referring to P&P as her "own darling child." A work of art, the fruits of one's genius instead of loins, lives on, and immortalizes the author forever, if it is worthy.

JaneGS said...

I thought I left this comment but it never showed up, so pardon if this is a duplicate...

It could be that "this fair child of mine" is a literary work, ala Jane Austen referring to P&P as her "own darling child." When you think about it, literary works do a better job of immortalizing an individual than do actually offspring.

I believe the notion of living on in literature is a theme that Shakespeare touches on in both the plays and other sonnets. Just don't ask me to quote where without some Googling :)

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - Now that is an interesting theory! There may be something to it. It seems to make sense.

@parridhlantern said...

loving the fact there's more poetry out there. can't wait for the next.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Parish - Already thinking about the next one!