‘Sonnet 37’,’ also known as ‘As a decrepit father takes delight,’ is number thirty-seven of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote. It is part of the popular Fair Youth sequence of sonnets (numbers one through one hundred twenty-six). This particular poem taps into some of the themes favored in the early sonnets in this sequence. There is a celebration within ‘Sonnet 37’ of youth, beauty, and the possibilities of the future. But, that celebration is tinted by the darkness of the speaker’s position.
The speaker addresses the youth throughout these fourteen lines. He tells the young man that he takes joy watching him live his young life. He sees and does things that the speaker can remember but can no longer take part in. The speaker compares himself to a lame old man who watches his son, a miniature version of himself. The poem concludes with the speaker wishing the Fair Youth all the luck and happiness in the world. If he’s happy then the speaker will continue to experience joy by living vicariously through him.
‘Sonnet 37’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the form known as a “Shakespearean” or English sonnet. The poem is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
The last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. This is a common feature of Shakespeare’s sonnets. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. This turn can be compared to the turns in the equally popular Petrarchan sonnet form.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 37’. These include but are not limited to simile, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, simile, is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. There is a strong example in the first quatrain. It extends into the second and even into the third. In these lines, the speaker says that he is like a “decrepit father” who takes pleasure in watching his son bask in the joys of youth.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “decrepit” and “delight” in line one and “beauty” and “birth” in line five. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as that between lines ten and eleven.
As a decrepit father takes delight
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by fortune’s dearest spite,
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 37’ the speaker place himself in a position that is similar to that which a “decrepit father” would take. The use of the word “As” in the first line signals that this is an example of a simile. The speaker compares himself to this water who takes pleasure in seeing his “active child do deeds of youth”. The word “decrepit” might refer to age or disability. It might also simply refer to weakness. He is like an old man watching a younger version of himself engage in all the things that he no longer can.
In the third line, the speaker references some kind of misfortune. “Fortune” made him “lame”. He is no longer the person that he used to be but he takes comfort in the “worth and truth,” or fidelity and loyalty, of the son.
Although the speaker is using this simile, the lines are actually directed at the Fair Youth. The speaker is older than this young man is and he now watches over him as a father watches over a son.
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more,
Entitled in thy parts do crownèd sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store.
In the next quatrain of ‘Sonnet 37’, the speaker goes on to list out some of the youth’s possible attributes. These things might all, and more, be part of his personality and the speaker is attaching his “love” to “this store”. He “engrafted” his love onto and into the youth’s life and deeds.
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give
That I in thy abundance am sufficed,
And by a part of all thy glory live.
In the final quatrain, the speaker says that although he is lame in some way, having this attachment to the youth allows him to feel as though he is whole again. He is not “lame, poor” or “despised” as long as this fantasy is part of his life. He takes satisfaction in the youth’s good life and a “part of all [his] glory”.
Look what is best, that best I wish in thee.
This wish I have; then ten times happy me.
In the last two lines of ‘Sonnet 37,’ the speaker concludes by saying that he wishes nothing but the best for the youth. He considers the world and al the good things that can be found in it. They should all go to the youth. If it comes true then he will be even luckier than he is now, ten times luckier and happier.