When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
Sonnet 106: Translation to modern English
When I come across descriptions of extremely beautiful people in historical records and the beautiful poems in praise of ladies long dead and lovely knights inspired by them then, in that catalogue of that great beauty – their hands, feet, lips, eyes, foreheads – it strikes me that they are trying to express just the kind of beauty that you have. So all the praise of these writers is only a prophecy of our time, all of it anticipating you. And unless they had had the power of prophesy they wouldn’t have had enough skill to depict your worth. We who live in the present time are able to be overwhelmed by your beauty but don’t have the skill to describe it.