Shakespeare Sonnet 17: "Who will believe my verse in time to come"
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
The collection includes the entire sequence of 154 sonnets.
The final sonnet in the "Marriage Sonnets" sequence finds the speaker hoping to guard his own legacy. If the young man will do as the speaker suggests, the speaker's own veracity will be shielded.
The entire sequence has presented a clever speaker employing a number of persuasive tactics to convince the young that marrying and springing off children is in the lad's best interest.
The speaker has dramatized any number of reasons that the young man should marry, among them and front and center has been the ability to remain a near immortal through those pleasant children the young man would engender, according to the speaker.
Sonnet 17 is the last marriage sonnet of the "Marriage Sonnet" sequence; the speaker makes a final plea to the young man, urging him to produce offspring, this time for the sake of the speaker’s own veracity.
First Quatrain: “Who will believe my verse in time to come”
The speaker in Sonnet 17 begins his persuasion of the same young gentleman again, as he asks the lad to think about his future and consider that the speaker’s words will sound exaggerated to the ears of future generations.
The speaker has lavished praise on the young man’s attributes, his “high deserts,” and the speaker now notes that such praise may sound unbelievable, like blatant flattery, especially coming as it does in sonnet form.
Yet the speaker insists that his sonnet is a mere “tomb," which cannot, in fact, do justice to the young man’s gifts. The poem likely covers in fog the young man's life.
The sonnet hardly express “half your parts.” Thus the speaker queries, “Who will believe my verse in time to come . . . ?”
Second Quatrain: “If I could write the beauty of your eyes”
The speaker, in the second quatrain, continues his musings on the uselessness of filling his sonnet with the young man’s “beauty” and “heavenly touches.” He claims that if he simply continues to fill his pieces with such things, the future generations will say: “This poet lies; / Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.”
The speaker and the young man both know how pleasant and wonderful the lad is, but because the young man’s qualities are rare, it will be unlikely that those reading about him in future will be able to accept the facts of the lad's endowment.
The speaker once again attempts to lead the young man to an conclusion about his duty to avoid such a fate.
Third Quatrain: “So should my papers, yellow’d with their age”
The speaker asserts to the young man that if his sonnetry is thought nothing but a bunch of lies, then the young man’s true attributes will be thought of as nothing more than the boasting of an old man, who was putting out on hot air without any truth.
The young man’s qualities will come to nothing: “your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage / And stretched metre of an antique song.”
The speaker is banking on the young lad’s vain nature in following the speaker's argument and that the lad will feel compelled to do anything the speaker suggests to avoid having his pleasing qualities assigned to the dustbin of history as the imagination of a mad sonneteer.
The Couplet: “But were some child of yours alive that time”
Finally, the couplet squarely addresses the issue: “But were some child of yours alive that time, / You should live twice,—in it and in my rime.”
If the young lad will only do his duty, follow the speaker's advice and marry and produce children, the problem will never perplex them.
Future generations will appreciate the fact that the young lad was a pleasing, handsome man, and the speaker’s sonnet will contain the ring of truth that the speaker believes they possess.
Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 17
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes