The sonnets were a huge surprise to me. My knowledge prior to reading them was basically ‘let me compare you to a summers day’ being quoted in mushy romantic comedy settings. I expected romantic poems, where the woman is praised in lyrical terms.
The first of the sonnets area all about how the poets male friend is very handsome/beautiful, and the poet is pissed at him for not settling down and having children, to ensure his good genes are passed on. Not what I was expecting the subject matter to be, but sure. Why not tell your mate he’s beautiful in a poem. Totally normal thing to do.
But if thou live remembred not to be
Die single and thine image dies with thee
In order to make his point, the poet dwells a bit on death and how sad it will be, on his own decline, and how really everything ends, except his friend will be immortalised in these poems
Be not self- willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir
The world will be thy widow
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose posession of that air thou ow’st
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st
I was surprised at the way the poet described his affection for this male friend- he loves him, he longs for him, he wishes that one of them was female so they could be together…
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.
[translation: nature, by adding a penis to his friend, defeated the poet of his wish to have the friend. They have each others love (romantic), but women will have the use of his ‘love’ (sex)]
From there things get either really romantic, or really creepy-stalker like, depending on your point of view. I felt it was a bit creepy. He spends pages saying how his mind is totally taken up with his mate, he loves him, he would be a slave for him (57), he gets depressed thinking about the future death of him (64 etc), he is thinking of him at night in bed (27), he is tortured by his absence (28) and then he is still extolling his greatness and being tortured by their separation for tens more sonnets.
Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call,
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise
Some of the latter poems relate to a woman he loves, but he wonders why as she doesn’t fit all the usual criteria for fairness. The poems are almost insulting her more than paying her homage. But I have heard it argued that this makes them even more romantic- he is in love with her despite her flaws, and he perhaps loves her, who she truly is, rather than the superficial things like looks.
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds