Sonnet 106 is part of William Shakespeare’s collection of 154 sonnets, which were first published in a 1609 quarto. This sonnet is part of the Fair Youth sequence, a series of poems that are addressed to an unknown young man. The sonnets 1-126 are part of this sequence and they have love, marriage, and intimacy as main themes.
As the rest of the poems in the 154 sonnet collection, Sonnet 106 is a Shakespearean Sonnet. The poem has three quatrains (stanzas with four lines) and a final couplet (two lines). It is written in iambic pentameter, as most of Shakespeare’s plays, and with an ABAB CDCD EFEF GG rhyme scheme.
Sonnet 106 Analysis
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,
The first stanza talks about chronicles of the past. The lyrical voice mentions that he/she reads old texts (“When in the chronicle of wasted time”) and encounters great descriptions “of the fairest wights”. Notice that “wight” is an old term that refers to “people”. Those depictions that the lyrical voice reads are of alluring people (“And beauty making beautiful old rhyme”), such as dead women and knights (“In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights”). This first stanza sets the scene of the sonnet and serves as an introduction for the following quatrains.
Then in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their ántique pen would have expressed
Ev’n such a beauty as you master now.
The second stanza relates the beauty of the past to the unknown young man. The lyrical voice realizes that these astounding descriptions (“The in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best/Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow”) can be correlated with the beauty of the young man and the possibility to depict his beauty (“I see their ántique pen would have expressed/Ev’n such a beauty as you master now”). This stanza expresses the similarity of the young man’s beauty and the beauty find in the antiquity. The lyrical voice looks back in time in order to realize that the young man’s beauty could be also found in past stories, as it is eternal and not ephemeral.
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.
The third stanza furthers on the idea of the previous one. The lyrical voice says that those old chronicles are connected to the young man, as they “are but prophecies/ Of this our time, all you prefiguring”. The beauty of this unknown young man surpasses time and place. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice refers to the incapability of expressing this beauty in writing: “And for they looked but with divining eyes,/They had not skill enough your worth to sing”. The beauty of this young man is greatly idealized, as the lyrical voice suggests that these great writers of the past weren’t able to refer to that particular beauty (even though they described other great characters).
For we which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
The final couplet furthers on the idea of the previous stanza. The past is compared to the present day (“For we which now behold these present days”), as both past and present can observe the beauty (“Have eyes to wonder”) but not successfully write about it (“lack tongues to praise”). The lyrical voice refers to his/her own inability to express and to talk about the young man’s beauty. Notice that, throughout the sonnet, the lyrical voice uses straightforward language in order to accentuate the meaning of his/her words, which are the inability to refer to the young man’s beauty in his/her writings.
About William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and died in 1616. He was an English poet, playwright, and actor. He is known as the greatest writer of the English language and as the most exceptional dramatist of all times. Moreover, William Shakespeare is often referred as England’s National Poet, and his works include 38 plays, 154 sonnets, 2 long poems, and other texts and collaborations. Between 1585 and 1592, William Shakespeare started a successful career in London as an actor and writer. Also, he was a part-owner of a company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. During those years, Shakespeare wrote most of his famous work. His first plays were mostly comedies, but his later works were tragedies, including Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, as his most remarkable plays. William Shakespeare wrote tragedies until 1608, and, after that, he wrote tragicomedies and collaborations with other writers. In 1613, when he was 49 years of age, William Shakespeare retired to Stratford. He died three years later in 1616.
Most of his plays were published during his lifetime. However, they were printed in a variety of qualities and with several variations. Nevertheless, in 1623, John Heminges and Henry Condell, who were Shakespeare’s friends and colleagues, published a more precise text known as the First Folio. The First Folio is a collected edition of Shakespeare’s dramatic works that includes most of the plays recognized as written by Shakespeare. It has a preface with a poem written by Ben Jonson.