Shakespeare Sonnet 106 - Owlcation - Education
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Shakespeare Sonnet 106

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 106

In sonnet 106, the speaker is studying earlier poetry and discovering that those writers had limited talent. They were not able to accomplish the mature level of art that this speaker now has done.

Sonnet 106

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rime,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

(Please note: The Shakespeare poet, writing in the 16th century, did not make a mistake in the third line of this sonnet. The spelling, "rhyme," was not used until the 18th century, when Dr. Samuel Johnson erroneously introduced that spelling into English. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Reading of Sonnet 106

Commentary

Addressing the sonnet, the speaker in Shakespeare sonnet 106 celebrates the poem’s ability to skillfully portray beauty that outshines that of the ancients.

First Quatrain: An Earlier Age

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rime,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,

The speaker of Shakespeare sonnet 106 has been reading poetry from earlier generations, and he notes that there are poems that seek to portray beauty. They attempt to capture beauty in their "beautiful old rime," by describing and complimenting women and warriors. The speaker is making no particular judgment about those poems yet but is merely reporting his findings, framing his information in a subordinate clause, beginning with the subordinate conjunction "when." The entire first quatrain consists of the subordinate clause; therefore, the reader has to wait for second stanza to finish the speaker’s complete thought.

Second Quatrain: Mastery over Matter

Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.

The speaker then asserts that while noting the best offered by these ancient poems, he understands that those poets were attempting to accomplish what his poems have now mastered. Those poems that relied on the exaggeration of beauty of physical body parts such as "Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow" obviously cannot compare favorably to the art of this present poet/speaker who has taken his art to the spiritual level. In the first quatrain, the speaker had begun by even averring that when all is said and done those poets actually wasted their time in composing such vulgar descriptions. He now clips their flights of fancy by stating that their attempt to express beauty exists in "a blazon." Although they tried to accomplish greatness, they remained immature and obvious in their attempts.

Third Quatrain: Bringing Goals to Fruition

So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:

Thus, all that those earlier poetry dabblers were able to accomplish has amounted to mere "prophecies." They had certain artistic goals in mind that they were not able to bring to fruition. They do serve as a precursor, however. They were able to conjecture that some form might exist that would be able to do justice to the concept of beauty, but they did not possess the "skill" needed to actually accomplish the task set before them.

The Couplet: The Accomplishment of True Talent

For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

In the couplet, the speaker then speculates and formulates a claim that those earlier bards would mouth, had they the ability to experience what this brilliant, talented sonneteer now achieves. They would report that they also saw great beauty and were inspired, but they would have to admit that they did not have the skill to write well enough to enshrine their observations.

The real ''Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The Secret Evidence of Who Wrote the Shakespeare Canon

Questions & Answers

Question: Can present day writers aptly describe the beauty of the speaker's friend?

Answer: Yes, they can.

Question: What is the difference between ancient and modern-day poetry?

Answer: The ancient era includes poetry before the seventh century A.D. The modern era begins in the early 20th century.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes