Three sonnets on love by William Shakespeare

For Valentine’s Day

Sonnet 23

  • As an unperfect actor on the stage,
  • Who with his fear is put beside his part,
  • Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
  • Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
  • So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
  • The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
  • And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
  • O’ercharged with burthen of mine own love’s might.
  • O! let my looks be then the eloquence
  • And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
  • Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
  • More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
  • O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
  • To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Sonnet 31

  • Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts,
  • Which I by lacking have supposed dead;
  • And there reigns Love, and all Love’s loving parts,
  • And all those friends which I thought buried.
  • How many a holy and obsequious tear
  • Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye,
  • As interest of the dead, which now appear
  • But things removed that hidden in thee lie!
  • Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
  • Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
  • Who all their parts of me to thee did give,
  • That due of many now is thine alone:
  • Their images I loved, I view in thee,
  • And thou (all they) hast all the all of me.

Sonnet 53

  • What is your substance, whereof are you made,
  • That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
  • Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
  • And you but one, can every shadow lend.
  • Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
  • Is poorly imitated after you;
  • On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
  • And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
  • Speak of the spring, and foison of the year,
  • The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
  • The other as your bounty doth appear;
  • And you in every blessed shape we know.
  • In all external grace you have some part,
  • But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616), who needs no introduction on a poetry page, was considered the greatest English poet — and perhaps one of the greatest poets of any language — to put pen to paper. The general reading public usually demonstrates an increased interest in his work, especially his sonnets on love, around Valentine’s Day. This year, devotees to his life and work will be commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death on April 23.

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