Shakespeare Sonnets 13 - 17

Updated on June 5, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

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.

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

In sonnet 13, 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 tries 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.

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.

Shakespeare Sonnet 14: “Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck”

In sonnet 14, the speaker says he does not have the power to predict the future by gazing at the stars in the sky, but the eyes of the young man tell all he needs to know.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 14: “Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck”

This speaker continues his mission of persuasion. This time he contrasts the act of predicting the future by supernatural vs natural means. The speaker hopes that his ability to predict that future by natural means will be more persuasive with the young man who is quite vain about his appearance. By concentrating on the young man's eyes instead of the heavenly orbs, the speaker demonstrates the importance of the physical encasement to those future generations he is so compelled to herald.

Sonnet 14: “Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck”

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As ‘Truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;’
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
‘Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 14

Commentary

In sonnet 14, the speaker says he does not have the power to predict the future by gazing at the stars in the sky, but the eyes of the young man tell all he needs to know.

First Quatrain: Stars and the Future

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;

In the first quatrain of Sonnet 14, "Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck," the speaker says he does not go by astrological star patterns to predict the future. The speaker does, however, have an understanding of astronomy, but still he cannot predict the "good or evil luck, / Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality." But his understanding of astronomy does not give him the sorcerer’s gift. The speaker wishes to keep his prognostications on a completely material level as he appeals to the young man's sensibilities.

Second Quatrain: Future Predictions

Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:

The speaker continues to say that he cannot even predict the future happenings of the next few minutes; he has no idea whether the weather will include "thunder, rain, and wind." In addition, the speaker also cannot say how well the reign of certain princes may transpire. The stars do not speak to him of fortune and misfortune. The speaker implies that the stars in the heavens, while comparing favorably with the young man's beauty, are not the focus of the speaker, whose argument will remain grounded in earth.

Third Quatrain: Eyes Instead of Stars

But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As ‘Truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;’

But instead of from the heavenly stars, the speaker acquires his knowledge from the young man’s eyes; those eyes are "constant stars" that the speaker has no difficulty reading. And what the speaker reads in those eyes is "Truth and beauty shall together thrive, / If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert." The truth and beauty that exist in the young man shall continue to "thrive," if the lad will not continue to store those qualities unused. But instead if the young lad will change his mind about remaining single, and instead marry and produce a suitable heir who then can carry on those qualities of truth and beauty, those qualities will continue to thrive.

Couplet: Natural Not Supernatural

Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
‘Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’

Then the speaker does make a prediction that if the young man does not produce a pleasing son to carry on those worthwhile qualities, after the young man dies, so will those qualities: "Or else of thee this I prognosticate: / ‘Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.’" The speaker’s purpose in sonnet 14 in explaining his lack of ability to predict the future by supernatural means is that he wants to underscore the importance of his being able to predict the future by completely natural means: if the young man dies without leaving an heir, all of the lad’s pleasant qualities will die with him.

The De Vere Society
The De Vere Society | Source

Shakespeare Sonnet 15: "When I consider every thing that grows"

In marriage sonnet 15, the speaker employs the Time metaphor again to persuade the young man that his only hope for deliverance from decrepitude is to produce offspring.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 15: "When I consider every thing that grows"

In the first quatrain of “When I consider every thing that grows,” the speaker begins a “when” clause which leaves the first quatrain an incomplete sentence. In the second quatrain, the speaker again employs that same pattern, and the thought is not complete until the third quatrain beginning with “then.” The speaker uses this pattern often: when such-and-such happens, then such-and-such is the result.

Sonnet 15: "When I consider every thing that grows"

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 e’en 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.

Reading of Sonnet 15

Commentary

The speaker is employing this pattern often: when such-and-such happens, then such-and-such is the result.

First Quatrain: First "When" Clause

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;

In the first quatrain, the speaker holds forth with “When I consider every thing that grows / Holds in perfection but a little moment.” The reader immediately comprehends that the speaker will again be using the fact that all living things age, decay, and die under time’s influence to persuade the young man to marry and produce pleasing offspring while he is still young. Interestingly, given the Shakespearean association with such, the speaker then employs a theater metaphor, “That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows / Whereon the stars in secret influence comment,” to assert that the brevity of life and its influences are brief and unknown by ordinary consciousness.

Second Quatrain: Second "When" Clause

When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and check’d e’en by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;

The second quatrain continues with its own “when” clause: “When I perceive that men as plants increase, / Cheered and check’d e’en by the self-same sky.” The speaker compares human beings to plants in their capability to reproduce and remarks that their progeny is welcomed and condoned by an approving “self-same sky.” The youthful “sap” that runs through plants corresponds to the youthful blood that courses through the veins of the human being in his prime; all living things are programmed to renew themselves this way.

Third Quatrain: "Then" Clause

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;

The third quatrain contains the “then” clause which supplies the resulting conclusion following the “when” clauses of the first and second quatrains: “Then the conceit of this inconstant stay / Sets you most rich in youth before my sight.” Here is the young man at the height of his prime, “Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay, / To change your day of youth to sullied night.” The here and now is the time when nature begins to inflict the downward course from youth to old age.

Couplet: Capping the Argument

And, all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

Then the speaker reminds the young man that “Time” is struggling to diminish the lad, to impoverish his love, and to take away his pleasing manly qualities. However, if the young man will just follow the suggestions of the speaker, what Time takes away will be returned to him in the form of his new pleasing son. The speaker has framed his suggestion in terms of “when” clauses that once again supply the argument that the young man understand his downward journey to old age and act to restore the loss that will result if the lad dies without leaving his lovely qualities embodied in his offspring.

Shakespeare Sonnet 16: "But wherefore do not you a mightier way"

Sonnet 16 likens the young man's struggle with time to that of war. Time is like a bloody tyrant.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 16: "But wherefore do not you a mightier way"

The speaker of Sonnet 16 likens the struggle with Time to fighting in war against a bitter enemy. The young man is at war with Time as if it were a bloody tyrant he has encountered on a battlefield. The speaker continues to cajole and try to persuade this young man to marry and produce offspring. Again, he creates a metaphorical drama to try to show the lad the concerns that the older man entertains about his welfare.

Sonnet 16: "But wherefore do not you a mightier way"

But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?
And fortify yourself in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rime?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens, yet unset,
With virtuous wish would bear you living flowers
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:
So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this, Time’s pencil, or my pupil pen,
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair,
Can make you live yourself in eyes of men.
To give away yourself keeps yourself still;
And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.

Reading of Sonnet 16

Commentary

Sonnet 16 likens the young man's struggle with time to that of war. Time is like a bloody tyrant.

First Quatrain: Time is the Enemy

But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?
And fortify yourself in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rime?

The speaker of Shakespeare’s “But wherefore do not you a mightier way,” again, reminds the young man that Time is the lad’s enemy; he refers to Time as a “bloody tyrant.” And he asks the young man why he does not find a more effective way to forestall this tyrant than just seemingly relying upon the speaker and his “barren rime.” The speaker wants the young man to “make war upon this bloody tyrant”; he proclaims that the young man’s struggle with Time is as significant as any bloody battle between nations. And the speaker is again urging the young man to do what is most feasible in this war with Time. Of course, the reader knows well that the speaker’s solution is that this young man must marry and produce offspring.

(Please note: In the original Shakespeare sonnets, the spelling of the poetic device is always "rime," as the first published edition in 1609 attests. The Shakespeare writer was composing his sonnets two centuries before Dr. Samuel Johnson erroneously introduced "rhyme" into English. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Second Quatrain: A Lad at His Prime

Now stand you on the top of happy hours,
And many maiden gardens, yet unset,
With virtuous wish would bear you living flowers
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:

The speaker reminds the young man that the lad is at his prime, “on the top of happy hours,” and there must be many young ladies who would gladly marry him and bear his offspring. The speaker relies on a colorful metaphor, likening the young women to “maiden gardens” who would “bear you living flowers.” And the speaker asserts that these wholesome young women are more appropriate for a young man of his stature than the “painted counterfeit” that apparently pleases the young man as he fritters away his time and stamina.

Third Quatrain: Ensuring His Heritage

So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this, Time’s pencil, or my pupil pen,
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair,
Can make you live yourself in eyes of men.

The speaker then refers to “lines of life” or the lineage, which denotes the heritage the young man should be ensuring, according to the speaker. Life repairs itself by encouraging a lineage, by prompting young eligible adults to marry and produce their heirs. The speaker always remains very clever in choosing words that deliver meaning for both eventualities, such as the creating of heirs and creating of poetry.

The speaker is creating a “line of life” in his poetry for the young man, and the speaker thus is trying to persuade the young lad to follow his lead and do the same with his progeny. The speaker then reminds the young man that no matter how much he concerns himself with folly, the lines of life cannot “make you live yourself in eyes of men.” Only by producing an heir will the young man be guaranteed a lineage that others can see and know.

Couplet: Maintaining His Own True Self

To give away yourself keeps yourself still;
And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.

In the couplet, the speaker introduces another epigrammatic piece of philosophy that the reader has come to expect from this persuasive speaker. The speaker asserts that only by giving up his selfish self can the young man actually keep his own true self. And he must use his “sweet skill,” with which the young man is well endowed to live and produce his lineage. This speaker continues to employ every angle of persuasion he can muster to bend the young man to his way of thinking. Many of his dramas are created to focus on the lad's own vanity and self-worth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Source

Shakespeare Sonnet 17: "Who will believe my verse in time to come"

Sonnet 17 is the last marriage sonnet of the "Marriage Sonnets" sequence; the speaker makes a final plea to the young man, urging him to produce offspring, this time for the sake of the speaker’s own veracity.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 17: "Who will believe my verse in time to come"

The final sonnet in the "Marriage Sonnets" sequence finds the speaker hoping to guard his own legacy. If the young man will do as the speaker suggests, the speaker's own veracity will be shielded. The entire sequence has presented a clever speaker employing a number of persuasive tactics to convince the young that marrying and springing off children is in the lad's best interest.

The speaker has dramatized any number of reasons that the young man should marry, among them and front and center has been the ability to remain a near immortal through those pleasant children the young man would engender, according to the speaker. Sonnet 17 is the last marriage sonnet of the "Marriage Sonnet" sequence; the speaker makes a final plea to the young man, urging him to produce offspring, this time for the sake of the speaker’s own veracity.

(Please note: In the original Shakespeare sonnets, the spelling of the poetic device is always "rime," as the first published edition in 1609 attests. The Shakespeare writer was composing his sonnets two centuries before Dr. Samuel Johnson erroneously introduced the spelling "rhyme" into English. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Sonnet 17: "Who will believe my verse in time to come"

Who will believe my verse in time to come
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, ‘This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.’
So should my papers, yellow’d with their age,
Be scorn’d, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice,—in it and in my rime.

Reading of Sonnet 17

Commentary

The final installment of the "Marriage Sonnets" category finds the speaker making a final plea to the young man, urging him to reproduce offspring, but this time for the sake of the speaker’s own reputability for truth.

First Quatrain: Putting His Verse in Question

Who will believe my verse in time to come
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.

The speaker in Sonnet 17 begins his persuasion of the same young gentleman again, as he asks the lad to think about his future and consider that the speaker’s words will sound exaggerated to the ears of future generations. The speaker has lavished praise on the young man’s attributes, his "high deserts," and the speaker now notes that such praise may sound unbelievable, like blatant flattery, especially coming as it does in sonnet form. Yet the speaker insists that his sonnet is a mere "tomb," which cannot, in fact, do justice to the young man’s gifts. The poem likely covers in fog the young man's life. The sonnet hardly express "half your parts." Thus the speaker queries, "Who will believe my verse in time to come . . . ?"

Second Quatrain: Filling His Verse with Praise for the Lad's Beauty

If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say, ‘This poet lies;
Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.’

The speaker, in the second quatrain, continues his musings on the uselessness of filling his sonnet with the young man’s "beauty" and "heavenly touches." He claims that if he simply continues to fill his pieces with such things, the future generations will say that the speaker/sonneteer is a liar because no such amazing beauty has ever existed in a man. The speaker and the young man both know how pleasant and wonderful the lad is, but because the young man’s qualities are rare, it will be unlikely that those reading about him in future will be able to accept the facts of the lad's endowment. The speaker once again attempts to lead the young man to a conclusion about his duty to avoid such a fate.

Third Quatrain: Appealing to Vanity

So should my papers, yellow’d with their age,
Be scorn’d, like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:

The speaker asserts to the young man that if his sonnetry is thought nothing but a bunch of lies, then the young man’s true attributes will be thought of as nothing more than the boasting of an old man, who was putting out only hot air without any truth. The young man’s qualities will come to nothing but the rantings of crazed poet who stretched the truth to fill is poems with lie after lie about the young man's beauty. The speaker is banking on the young lad’s vain nature in following the speaker's argument and that the lad will feel compelled to do anything the speaker suggests to avoid having his pleasing qualities assigned to the dustbin of history as the imagination of a mad sonneteer.

Couplet: So His Sonnets Will Ring True

But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice,—in it and in my rime.

Finally, the couplet squarely addresses the same issue: that the young man should marry and produce children so the lad will by doubly rendered immortal, both through his children and through the speaker's verse. If the young lad will only do his duty, follow the speaker's advice and marry and produce children, the problem will never perplex them. Future generations will appreciate the fact that the young lad was a pleasing, handsome man, and the speaker’s sonnet will contain the ring of truth that the speaker believes they possess.

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

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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