01 September 2016

Poetry Thursday - Sonnet 17 by William Shakespeare

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say 'This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne'er touch'd earthly faces.'
So should my papers yellow'd with their age
Be scorn'd like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term'd a poet's rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.
William Shakespeare: Sonnet 17

To mark 400 years since the death of the Bard, here is one of his 154 sonnets. 

He was born in 1564 - we know he was baptised on 26 April, and it was usual for baptism to take place three days after the birth, so it's surmised his birthday is 23 April - and it was on that same date that he died in 1616. In between, not much is known about his life, but Bill Bryson has spun those few facts (and the conjectures) into the historical context and come up with an enjoyable Life of Shakespeare.
It's a bit of a sidetrack from poetry, but here's a bit from the book that I found particularly interesting:

"Sumptuary laws, as they were known, laid down precisely, if preposterously, who could wear what. A person with an income of £20 a year was permitted to don a satin doublet but not a satin gown, while someone worth £100 a year could wear all the satin he wished, but could have velvet only in his doublets, but not in any outerwear, and then only so long as the velvet was not crimson or blue, colours reserved for Knights of the Garter and their superiors. Silk netherstockings, meanwhile, were restricted to knights and their eldest sons, and to certain - but not all - envoys and royal attendants. Restrictions existed, too on the amount of fabric one could use for a particular article of apparel and whether it might be worn pleated or straight and so on, through lists of variables almost beyond counting. 

"The laws were enacted partly for the good of the national accounts, for the restrictions nearly always were directed at imported fabrics. For much the same reason there was for a time a Statute of Caps, aimed at helping domestic capmakers through a spell of depression, which required people to wear caps instead of hats. For obscure reasons Puritans resented the law and were often fined for flouting it. Most of the other sumptuary laws weren't actually much enforced, it would seem. The records show almost no prosecutions. Nonetheless they remained on the books until 1604."

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