Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sonnet 94

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

They that have the power to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,—
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces,
And husband nature's riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence.

The summer's flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die;
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed oubraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

3 comments:

dan1968 said...

from Immortal Poems of the English Language (Oscar Williams)

laura said...

I don't know why I've never heard this sonnet before. I like the idea that they are "lords and owners of their faces."

If I understand at all, then I agree with what he's trying to say in the first stanza, but only in a very general sense, and not with the particular way that he chooses to say it. Some underlying assumption rubs me the wrong way and I'm still trying to put my finger on it.

The last four lines of the second stanza, however, are spot on.

dan1968 said...

that's interesting because my feeling is the opposite. I'm more resolved w/ the first lines and have more issues w/ the last. I suppose the first stanza addresses self-restraint and the second, self-indulgence. There is an interpersonal aspect to it though: "others" are "stewards" in part because those with greater power do not impose their will upon them. But in not imposing their will, they put themselves at greater risk, that the "stewards of their excellence" will not sustain them but will infect them by indulging them anyway, with praise and servitude, instead of reaching for excellence themselves. Something like that.