PoetrySonnet

William Shakespeare – Sonnet 4

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend 
Upon thyself thy beauty’s legacy? 
Nature’s bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank, she lends to those are free. 
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse 
The bounteous largess given thee to give? 
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use 
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thyself alone, 
Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.
Then how, when Nature calls thee to be gone, 
What acceptable audit canst thou leave? 
   Thy unused beauty must be tomb’d with thee, 
   Which, used, lives th’ executor to be. 

NOTES

The theme presented in the previous sonnets continues, but this time the poet states his case using a mercantile conceit. It is simply bad business for the young friend to spend his “beauty’s legacy” on himself. Nature’s account must be settled properly, and this can only be accomplished through procreation. 

Unthrifty (1): wasteful or unprofitable.

beauty’s legacy (2): the beauty passed down to you (that should extend to your children). Your beauty is but a loan from nature: you must not hoard it.

frank (): generous.

free (4): liberal/generous.

niggard (5): miser.

usurer (7): moneylender.

yet canst not live? (8): i.e. beyond a short time.

traffic with thyself alone (9): A moneylender would not turn a profit if he lent only to himself.

acceptable audit (12): i.e. how will you settle your account with Nature if you remain childless?

th’ executor to be (14): the child he would bear. 

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