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.
The theme of the necessity of procreation found in Sonnet 1 continues here. The poet's lover is clearly handsome, and much desired. But the poet stresses his beauty will not last, and that it is selfish and foolish for his friend not to prepare for the loss of his youth. The only way he can truly prepare is to have a son who can carry on his name and all his wonderful qualities, including his unsurpassed beauty. Much debate has surrounded the true identity of Shakespeare's young man, but many believe he was the Earl of Southampton, the poet's close friend and patron. Others believe he was William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. It is also possible, but highly doubtful, that the friend was Shakespeare's creation.
beseige (1): the beginning of a straightforward military metaphor (dig deep trenches, beauty's field, livery).
proud livery (3): the poet's depiction of his friend proudly wearing his own youthfulness as one would wear a uniform (livery).
tatter'd weed (4): tattered garment (the youth's livery in the above line).
lusty (6): passionate or vigorous.
all-eating shame (8): all-consuming shame.
thriftless (8): unprofitable.
Shall sum my count (11): Shall settle my accounts.
Did You Know?... A metrical foot consisting of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable is called an iambus; a foot composed of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable is called a trochee; and a foot composed of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable is called an anapest. The anapest is sometimes substituted for the iambus. Read on...
Points to Ponder... "I don't think it matters much who "W. H." was. The great question is, do Shakspere's Sonnets speak his own heart and thoughts or not? And were it not for the fact that many critics really deserving the name of Shakespeare students, and not Shakespeare fools, have held the Sonnets to be merely dramatic, I could not have conceived that poems so intensely and evidently autobiographic and self-revealing, poems so one
with the spirit and inner meaning of Shakspere's growth arid life, could ever have been conceived to
be other than what they are, the records of his own loves and fears. And I believe that if the
acceptance of them as such had not involved the consequence of Shakespeare's intrigue with a married
woman, all readers would have taken the Sonnets as speaking of Shakespeare's own life. But his
admirers are so anxious to remove every stain from him, that they contend for a non-natural interpretation of his poems." (F.J. Furnivall. The Leopold Shakespeare, p.72.)