I have selected six of my favourite poems of the 154 poems in the Sonnets of William Shakespeare. These sonnets shed light on your life, reveal the beauty and expose the dark corners.
I have written in contemporary language the essentials of the poem. The 21st century text can help illuminate the 1lluminate the 16th century text. The language may change a little over the centuries while the truth of human experience endures for countless generations.
We need Guides on this earth who know the range of murmuring of the mind. Shakespeare is one of the Guides. He addresses the immediate world – not for him the mantle of the prophet, nor looking up to a God for guidance. In the immediacy with find the issues and the resolutions.
POEM 1. Sonnet 18
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
There are more lovely and more temperate
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.
And summer’s lease has all too short a date:.
Sometime too hot the eye of Heaven shines
And often is his golden complexion dimm’d
And every fair from fair sometimes declines
By chance on nature’s changing course on trimmed.
But thou why it turns but thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time they growest
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see
So long lives this gives this life to thee.
Shall I compare you to a summer’s day?
You are even more lovely and calm.
Stormy winds shake the precious buds of May,
For summer only lasts for a short time
Sometime the sun above is too hot,
And often burns his golden complexion
And what is beautiful will lose its beauty,
It’s by chance or due to changes in nature and its impact
But your eternal summer will not fade,
You will not lose your beauty,
Death will not boast of you lost in the unconscious,
You develop into eternity
As long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
As long as this poem is read, this gives life to your beauty.
POEM 2. Sonnet 116
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
When it comes to the marriage of true minds,
I hope I will never admit there are obstacles.
Love is not love if it changes
When it sees change in the loved one.
Or turns away and separates from the other?
Oh no. It is a constantly fixed mark
That looks upon storms and is not shaken.
It is the Star showing the way to every sailing ship
And his worth is unknown, although his height can be measured.
Love is not fooled by time, even though rosy lips and cheeks
Come within the range of an altering tool in time
Love does not change with the passing of brief hours and weeks,
But will last even past the end of time.
If I am wrong, and you can prove it, then I never wrote and no man ever loved.
POEM 3. Sonnet 130
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head;
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some pérfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
My lover’s eyes are not like the sun at all.
Coral is far more red than her red lips.
If snow is white, well then her breasts are dull
If hair is like fine wire, then black wire grows on her head.
I’ve seen roses that are pink, red and white,
But I don’t see those colours in her cheeks.
And there is more delight in artificial perfumes
Than in the reek of the breath of my mistress.
I love to hear her speak even though I know well.
That music sounds much better than her voice.
I admit I never saw a goddess move.
My mistress when she walks tramples the ground.
And still I swear to heaven. I think my love is as rare
As any that has been lied about through false comparisons.
POEM 4. Sonnet 23
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burthen of mine own love’s might.
O! let my looks be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.
Like an imperfect actor on the stage,
Who cannot remember his part due to fear
Or some fierce thing replete with too much anger,
Whose excessive strength weakens his own heart;
So I, out of fear of trust in myself, forget to say
The perfect performance of love’s role,
And the strength of my own love seems to decay,
Am burdened with the weight of my own love’s effort
O let the words expressed in my play be eloquent
Let them silently interpret what is in my heart,
Who plead for love and look for reward
More than my words can reveal
Lean to read what silent love has written
To hear with the love in your eyes of what you are thinking.
POEM 5. Sonnet 29
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heav’n with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate.
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
i feel unfortunate when others see me as a disgrace,
I cry when I am alone about being an outcast
and disturb the silent heavens with my pointless cries
and look at myself and blame my fate.
Wishing myself to be a person with much hope
and wishing I looked like him and his friends.
I wish I had this man skill and his opportunities
and I’m unhappy with what usually makes me glad
still when I have these thoughts and start to despise myself.
I happily think of you. And then my heart
rises like a lark at dawn
from the gloomy Earth singing hymns at Heaven’s Gate.
I remember your sweet love brings much wealth
Then I refuse to change places with kings.
POEM 6. Sonnet 27
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.
Tired after work, I hurry to my bed,
I rest here with my limbs tired from travel.
But then a journey begins in my head
that moves my mind when my body’s work is done.
Then my thoughts go far from where I am
and I take I make passionate pilgrimage to you.
I keep my tired eyes wide open,
Staring into darkness just as the blind see
Except that my imagination
Reveals your image which my eyes cannot see
And it hangs like a jewel in this sleepless night
This makes the black night beautiful and her old face as new
as by day is my body and my mind in the night
Seeing you (day or night) I find no peace.
Like the plays, the Sonnets of Shakespeare mirror and reflect the human condition.
- Read each sonnet slowly. What stands out for you? Take the sonnet to heart.
- Reflect on it. Meditate on it.
- Welcome the essence of a sonnet deep into your being.
A Master of Literature, Shakespeare enables us to learn more about ourselves and our relationship with each other.
Below is link to the first five sonnets plus contemporary English with a short reflection on each sonnet.