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!
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.
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)
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).
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