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Laureates Select Favorite Shakespeare Poem–What’s Yours?

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With April marking the bard’s 451st birthday, the Center decided to commemorate Shakespeare’s special month by asking several of our Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry for their favorite Shakespeare poem. Difficult task, we know!  The results are below. But before you get to that: let us shout a loud, collective HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE!

Robert Pinsky:

ShakespeareSonnet 146

Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then, soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more.
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Donald Hall:

“Fear No More the Heat O’Th’ Sun”Shakespeare2

Fear no more the heat o’th’ sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages:
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’th’ great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke.
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak.
The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor th’all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan.
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee and come to dust.

(From Cymbeline IV.ii)

Charles Wright:Shakespeare3

Sonnet 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 *All photographs are in repository at the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA*
**Text of Shakespeare’s poems based on David Bevington’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare (7th edition, 2014).


Want more Shakespeare goodness? Click through the below to enjoy some LOC Shakespeare-related treasures:

Comments (4)

  1. Sonnet 29

    When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
    I all alone beweep my outcast state,
    And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
    And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
    Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
    Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
    Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
    With what I most enjoy contented least;
    Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
    Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
    Like to the lark at break of day arising
    From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
    For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

  2. The Phoenix and the Turtle

    Let the bird of loudest lay,
    On the sole Arabian tree,
    Herald sad and trumpet be,
    To whose sound chaste wings obey.

    But thou, shrieking harbinger,
    Foul pre-currer of the fiend,
    Augur of the fever’s end,
    To this troop come thou not near.

    From this session interdict
    Every fowl of tyrant wing,
    Save the eagle, feather’d king:
    Keep the obsequy so strict.

    Let the priest in surplice white,
    That defunctive music can,
    Be the death-divining swan,
    Lest the requiem lack his right.

    And thou, treble-dated crow,
    That thy sable gender mak’st
    With the breath thou giv’st and tak’st,
    ‘Mongst our mourners shalt thou go.

    Here the anthem doth commence:
    Love and constancy is dead;
    Phoenix and the turtle fled
    In a mutual flame from hence.

    So they lov’d, as love in twain
    Had the essence but in one;
    Two distincts, division none:
    Number there in love was slain.

    Hearts remote, yet not asunder;
    Distance, and no space was seen
    ‘Twixt the turtle and his queen;
    But in them it were a wonder.

    So between them love did shine,
    That the turtle saw his right
    Flaming in the phoenix’ sight:
    Either was the other’s mine.

    Property was thus appall’d,
    That the self was not the same;
    Single nature’s double name
    Neither two nor one was call’d.

    Reason, in itself confounded,
    Saw division grow together;
    To themselves yet either-neither,
    Simple were so well compounded

    That it cried how true a twain
    Seemeth this concordant one!
    Love hath reason, reason none
    If what parts can so remain.

    Whereupon it made this threne
    To the phoenix and the dove,
    Co-supreme and stars of love;
    As chorus to their tragic scene.


    Beauty, truth, and rarity.
    Grace in all simplicity,
    Here enclos’d in cinders lie.

    Death is now the phoenix’ nest;
    And the turtle’s loyal breast
    To eternity doth rest,

    Leaving no posterity:–
    ‘Twas not their infirmity,
    It was married chastity.

    Truth may seem, but cannot be:
    Beauty brag, but ’tis not she;
    Truth and beauty buried be.

    To this urn let those repair
    That are either true or fair;
    For these dead birds sigh a prayer.

  3. SONNET 116

    Let me not to the marriage of true minds
    Admit impediments. Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
    That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
    It is the star to every wandering bark,
    Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
    Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

  4. Winter’s Tale, Act IV, scene 4

    What you do
    Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
    I’d have you do it ever: when you sing,
    I’d have you buy and sell so, so give alms,
    Pray so; and, for the ordering your affairs,
    To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
    A wave o’ the sea, that you might ever do
    Nothing but that; move still, still so,
    And own no other function: each your doing,
    So singular in each particular,
    Crowns what you are doing in the present deed,
    That all your acts are queens.

    Sonnet 97

    How like a winter hath my absence been
    From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
    What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
    What old December’s bareness everywhere!
    And yet this time remov’d was summer’s time,
    The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
    Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
    Like widow’d wombs after their lords’ decease:
    Yet this abundant issue seem’d to me
    But hope of orphans and unfather’d fruit;
    For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
    And thou away, the very birds are mute;
    Or if they sing, ’tis with so dull a cheer
    That leaves look pale, dreading the winter’s near.

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