I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt:
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.
Sonnet 83 in modern English
I’ve never thought that representations of you need elaboration, so I haven’t described your beauty in elaborate verse. I could see – or thought I could see – that you were above the skills of any poet. Therefore, I’ve made no effort to represent you so that you yourself, by virtue of your very existence, would be able to demonstrate how far short modern verse would come in representing quality – the real quality that you possess. You regarded my silence as a fault, but I’m proud of it because my silence doesn’t detract from your beauty, whereas others destroy it by trying to bring it to life. There’s more life in one of your beautiful eyes than all of your poets can invent in their praise of you.
Watch Sir Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare’s sonnet 83
The 1609 Quarto sonnet 83 version
INeuer ſaw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your faire no painting ſet,
I found ( or thought I found) you did exceed,
The barren tender of a Poets debt:
And therefore haue I ſlept in your report,
That you your ſelfe being extant well might ſhow,
How farre a moderne quill doth come to ſhort,
Speaking of worth,what worth in you doth grow,
This ſilence for my ſinne you did impute,
Which ſhall be moſt my glory being dombe,
For I impaire not beautie being mute,
When others would giue life,and bring a tombe.
There liues more life in one of your faire eyes,
Than both your Poets can in praiſe deuiſe.
See the British Library’s 1609 Quarto.
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