LiteraturePoetrySonnet

William Shakespeare – Sonnet 6

hen let not Winter’s ragged hand deface 
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distill’d:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-kill’d. 
That use is not forbidden usury, 
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee, 
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one; 
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee: 
Then what could Death do, if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity? 
    Be not self-will’d, for thou art much too fair,
    To be Death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

Notes

Here the poet continues to urge the young man to escape “black night” by fathering glorious children, and this time he tries the proverbial “strength in numbers” argument. Ten children would surely foil “Death’s conquest,” particularly if they all inherited the young man’s beauty (“If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee,” 10). Imagery from the previous sonnets dominates here. For more, please see the commentary for Sonnet 4 and Sonnet 5. 

ragged (1): rugged or rough.

treasure (3): enrich.

use (5): interest.

happies (6): makes happy – an unusual verb and the only time Shakespeare makes use of it. The children will be happy to pay Nature (note that the children themselves are payment), who will gladly receive the bounty. See Sonnet 4

Death’s conquest (14): Compare Richard III:

That Julius Caesar was a famous man; 
With what his valour did enrich his wit, 
His wit set down to make his valour live 
Death makes no conquest of this conqueror; 
For now he lives in fame, though not in life. (3.1.84-88)

make worms thine heir (14): Compare Hamlet:

Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end. (4.3.20-25)

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