Sonnet XVIII

February 13, 2007 at 7:00 pm 6 comments

William Shakespeare

Listen (to Peter O’Toole read)

Listen (version 1)

Listen (version2)

Listen (version3)

Listen (version4)

Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie,
And Sommers lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And every faire from faire some-time declines,
By chance, or natures changing course untrim’d:
But thy eternal Sommer shall not fade,
Nor loose possession of that faire thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wandr’st in his shade,
When in eternall lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breath or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

So it’s Valentine’s Day, and Shakespearan sonnets seem called for. And what better reading of it than this version doing the rounds in Peter O’Toole’s glorious voice.

The thing I really love about Shakespeare though, is the way his words lend themselves so magically to a variety of interpretations, so that with every reading of the text you discover new meanings, see how the whole thing could be played differently. This effect is strongest in the plays, of course, but it plays out even in his poems, where startlingly different versions can all sound compelling and true. It’s this malleability of Shakespeare that I love, the changing flavour of his words in your mouth as you chew on them, twisting them this way and that.

So I thought we’d try something different with this one. Up above are four different readings of the same sonnet (all unfortunately, by me – how I wish I could have convinced O’Toole to participate). Just for the heck of it.


Note: The text above is taken from the 1956 edition of The Penguin Book of English Verse.

Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, William Shakespeare.

from Seven Laments for the War Dead The Truest Poetry is the most Feigning

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Szerelem  |  February 14, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Ah! You did a special valentines day post!! I have an incontrollable urge to chuckle.
    I thought you did
    And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
    And every faire from faire some-time declines,
    By chance, or natures changing course untrim’d:
    But thy eternal Sommer shall not fade,

    very nicely.
    And I finished reading the sonnets – and got no work done over the last couple of days. I think my favourites are the numbers 60 – 65. I especially love how 60 and 64 are so alike yet so different.

  • 2. Veena  |  February 14, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Falsie: You are my friend and all and I even went and voted for you in that stupid awards thingy but this is too much. Why? Why? Couldn’t you have left this one alone? No?

  • 3. Falstaff  |  February 14, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Szerelem: Thanks. You know, I’ve never managed to remember the numbers of any of the sonnets. It just seems so wrong to be taking poems and assigning numbers to them, as though they were safe deposit boxes or something. My personal favourites are probably ‘when, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’ and ‘the expense of spirit in a waste of shame’.

    I have to admit I’m not particularly enamoured by the sonnets. I like them, even love a few, but can only take them in small doses – after a point they start to cloy at me. Too much of the sentiment seems artificial, too pretty. On the whole I’d rather read the plays. Or, if i want to read sonnets, read Donne or Hopkins.

    Veena: I could. But I was bored and needed something to do. Thanks for the vote, btw.

  • 4. Revealed  |  February 15, 2007 at 1:26 am

    Why’s the Peter O’Toole link a dummy? I vote for the 3rd btw :D. Very entertaining.

  • 5. Szerelem  |  February 15, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Yeah the O’Toole link isnt working.
    I get what you mean about them starting to cloy at you after a while. I think its probably because they are writen in a sequence so one idea get repeated over and over with all possible metaphors and analogies.
    Also agree with revealed and had meant to mention in my last comment that I like the third version best. The first one for some reason reminded me of Olivier in Richard III so I kept imagining Richard reciting it!

  • 6. I called death down « pō’ĭ-trē  |  November 18, 2007 at 6:23 am

    […] can breathe or eyes can see / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”, Shakespeare writes, and the sentiment recurs again and again throughout the ages that follow. And yet here we are, in […]


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