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Sample 9

Extract from Part II of Shakespeare: a Hidden Life Sung in a Hidden Song


SONNET 108: Southampton's reaction to Sonnets 104-107 has apparently been along the following lines: “Why are you serenading me with this same old stuff? We all know I'm not your beautiful young lad of years ago, and this poetry on keeping me young forever looks increasingly stupid!”

     In an injured tone Shakespeare here responds and justifies himself. “What else can I write to show my true feelings? To me you are still my sweet boy and I need to tell you this and to make you understand that my love for you looks past your signs of ageing!”

     Tellingly, however, the poet subsequently ignores his own justification. In none of the regular sonnets which follow does he again imply that Southampton is young; nor does he revisit his once favourite fall-back theme of immortality through verse.


SONNET 108

What’s in the brain that ink may character

Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit?

What’s new to speak, what now to register

That may express my love, or thy dear merit?

Nothing, sweet boy: but yet, like prayers divine,

I must each day say o’er the very same,

Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,

Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.

So that eternal love in love’s fresh case

Weighs not the dust and injury of age,

Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,

But makes antiquity for aye his page;

Finding the first conceit of love there bred,

Where time and outward form would show it dead.

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What thought is there that can be put in ink

Which hasn’t conveyed to you my true spirit?

What’s new to say, what now to make you think,

That might portray my love or your dear merit?

There’s nought, sweet boy; and yet, like holy prayer,

I have to daily say what’s just the same:

You’re mine, I’m yours, no old words deemed past care,

Just like when I first came to praise your name:

So that eternal love, rejuvenated,

Can from Time’s tribulations disengage,

Look past those wrinkles to which all are fated,

And make a servant of unfolding age;

To see there that first flush of love live on,

Where time and outer form would show it gone.