How can my muse want subject to invent,
While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent
For every vulgar paper to rehearse?
O! give thy self the thanks, if aught in me
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;
For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thy self dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date.
If my slight muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.
Sonnet 38 in modern English
How could I lack a subject to write my poems about while you are alive; you who pours your own sweet self – too excellent a subject for lesser poets to deal with – into my verse? Oh, give yourself the credit if anything of mine strikes you as being worth reading. For who is so inarticulate that he can’t write to you when you yourself provide the creative spark? You could be the tenth muse, worth ten times more than the usual nine invoked by poets. And let whoever calls on you write eternal verses that will outlive the ages. If my poor efforts please the demanding readers of these modern times the hard work of that will be mine but you will have the praise.
Watch Sir Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare’s sonnet 38
The 1609 Quarto sonnet 38 version
How can my Muſe want ſubiect to inuent While thou doſt breath that poor’ſt into my verſe Thine owne ſweet argument,to excellent, For euery vulgar paper to rehearſe: Oh giue thy ſelfe the thankes if ought in me, Worthy peruſal ſtand againt thy ſight, For who’s ſo dumbe that cannot write to thee, When thou thy ſelfe doſt giue inuention light? Be thou the tenth Muſe,ten times more in worth Then thoſe old nine which rimers inuocate, And he that calls on thee,let him bring forth Eternal numbers to out-liue long date. If my ſlight Muſe doe pleaſe theſe curious daies, The paine be mine,but thine ſhal be the praiſe.