When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter’d weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.
Shakespeare was incredible. Somehow, almost 300 years before Darwin, he grasped that there was something ageless and potentially immortal in human beings, and that it, and not our conscious, mortal selves is what is essential about us. My favorite sonnet is #13:
O! that you were your self; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you your self here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold,
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know,
You had a father: let your son say so.
“Love, you are no longer yours, than you your self here live?” “Then you were yourself again, after yourself’s decease?” Incredible!! The man was pure magic.
It’s interesting that Tolstoy had a terrible aversion to Shakespeare. Orwell refuted him in an essay that you can find in the fourth volume of his published collected works, “In Front of Your Nose,” which I highly recommend, as well as the other three volumes. You can probably pick it up at Amazon or on eBay. I think Tolstoy’s visceral hatred of Shakespeare resulted from the fact that he was a pathologically pious Puritan, and he recognized in Shakespeare his polar opposite. As Shakespeare put it in Midsummer Night’s Dream, he would prefer any species of human being to “a devil of a Puritan!”