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Shakespeare Sonnet 13: "O! That you were yourself; but, love, you are"

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Shakespeare Sonnet 13: "O! That you were yourself; but, love, you are"

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 13 tries to appeal to the young man's sense of duty to his fellow man. In this sonnet, the speaker continues to plead with the young lad to engage in matrimony in order to father a child. Again, the speaker continues to remain very specific: “You had a father: let your son say so.” The speaker of marriage sonnet 13 is the very same as the one of the marriage sonnets 1-12. Readers will therefore perceive correctly the same purpose perpetuated by his theme as the speaker continues to encourage, cajole, and wheedle the young lad into marriage and the production of lovely offspring; he, of course, is particularly interested in the young man producing male offspring.

Sonnet 13: "O! That you were yourself; but, love, you are"

O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you your self here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so.

Reading of Sonnet 13

Commentary

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 13 is now attempting to appeal to the young man's sense of duty to his fellow man.

First Quatrain: The Delusion of Self-Creation

O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you your self here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:

In the first quatrain, the speaker seems to be speaking nonsense as he continues his cajoling of the young man. The speaker is suggesting that if only the young lad were created solely to exist for himself, he might avoid the bother of needing to marry and produce the succeeding generation. The speaker, however, wishes to assert that living the life of a human being does not mean existing only for himself. The speaker wants the young man to accept his beliefs: the speaker insists that a current generation must keep in mind that it is responsible for raising up the succeeding generation. The speaker seems to profess a lofty, altruistic point of view. The speaker therefore again demands: “Against the coming end you should prepare.” The speaker suggests that the young lad propagate children in order that the future may not go without the young lad's pleasing features. As the young lad's offspring will, of course, resemble their father, the young man will in a sense, continue to live, even after his departure from the earth.

Second Quatrain: Time Sensitive Qualities

So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.

The pleasant features and qualities of the young man are temporary. Thus, because those qualities remain temporary gifts, the lad should take responsibility and pass them on to his children. The act of producing children who will naturally lay claim to the same beautiful features of their father will thereby offer their pleasantries the world of the future. The speaker continues to search out for new ways in which to arouse the handsome young lad's vanity. The speaker stresses those pleasant qualities of the young man while then asserting that the lad has the obligation to pass his lovely qualities to his children, thereby keeping those qualities from dying out.

Third Quatrain: The Metaphorical House

Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?

In the third quatrain, the speaker compares the lad's physical body to that of a house. He then rhetorically suggests with his question: "Who lets so fair a house fall to decay"? Of course, when there is hope of restoring it, no one would do so. The speaker is thus suggesting that no one of proper thought and disposition would ever let a nice house become decrepit. The speaker insists that it is appropriate as well moral to keep a fine building in good shape and protect it from the damaging effects of the weather as well as the ravages of time. The speaker continues to hope that the young man may be finally convinced by his comparison of the young man's body to a building or that of a fine house. The speaker hopes the lad would want to protect a fine home with its residents from those same damaging effect of time and weather.

The Couplet: Speaking Frankly

O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so.

The speaker has become rather straightforward even extremely frank, as he even answers his own question. He admonishes the young man that, of course, only the disgustingly wasteful would permit such a fine, sturdy building to fall into decrepitude. The speaker then becomes even more candid as he declaims directly: you yourself possessed a father, allow your children to do the same. Thus, again the speaker is commanding the young lad to get married and commence the production of those pleasing offspring. Only that will render him immortal and fulfill the world's need for beauty and pleasing features that the young man already possesses.

Roger Stritmatter – He Who Takes the Pain to Pen the Book: The Poetry of the 17th Earl of Oxford

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes