‘Sonnet 67,’ also known as ‘Ah, wherefore with infection should he live,’ is number sixty-seven of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that the Bard wrote over his lifetime. It is part of Shakespeare’s famous Fair Youth sequence of sonnets. These start with sonnet number one and run all the way through sonnet one hundred twenty-six.
These poems are devoted to a young, beautiful man whose identity remains unknown to this day. There has been a great deal of speculation about who this young man could possibly be, but no single identity has ever been decided upon.
Throughout this poem the speaker lists out numerous ways that people and institutions and even nature itself, take advance of the man that he loves. This beautiful, pure, and one-of-a-kind person is being falsely imitated and used for his beauty by all those who are lacking. He is forced to live in a world where nothing is as good as it should be.
‘Sonnet 67’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line, single stanza poem. It is structured in the form that has become synonymous with the poet’s name. The English or Shakespearean sonnet (sometimes also known as the Elizabethan) is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter.
Iambic pentameter 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.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines (known as a couplet) are a rhyming pair. They often bring with them a turn or “volta” (in Italian) in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 67’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, allusion, anaphora, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “bankrupt” and “blood” in lines nine and ten. An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this particular poem, the poet alludes to the work he did in the previous sonnet. It is necessary to refer to that sonnet to get a full understanding of what this one is about.
Shakespeare also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. It can be seen through the use of “And” at the beginning of four lines. 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 instance, the transition between lines three and four.
Ah, wherefore with infection should he live,
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve
And lace itself with his society?
In the first four lines of ‘Sonnet 67,’ the speaker begins by picking up where he left off in ‘Sonnet 66’. The previous sonnet was dark, depressing, and concerned with the variety of things that the speaker is tired of. These things, which range from prostitution to the control of the arts, make him want to kill himself. The only thing that’s stopping him from entering into death is the love he holds for the Fair Youth.
He wonders in the first lines of “Sonnet 67’ why the man he loves, the Fair Youth, should have to live “with infection”. This is a reference back to ‘Sonnet 66’ and all the corruption he spoke about. The youth’s presence in this terrible world means that sinners are elevated and graced by his presence. They are able to take advantage of their association with the youth in order to better their standing.
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeing of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
In the next four lines of ‘Sonnet 67,’ the speaker asks two more rhetorical questions, a very common technique in Shakespeare’s sonnets. He moves away from sinners to speak on the useless attempts of artists to depict the youth’s face. It just seems dead and lifeless when they are finished with their artwork. This is a different, but similar way of taking advantage of him.
He also asks why other people should be allowed to imitate his beauty when he is the only true beauty. The speaker clearly sees the dark and terrible world as negatively impacting the man that he loves.
Why should he live, now nature bankrupt is,
Beggared of blood to blush through lively veins?
For she hath no exchequer now but his,
And, proud of many, lives upon his gains.
O him she stores, to show what wealth she had
In days long since, before these last so bad.
In lines nine and ten there is another rhetorical question. The speaker asks why the youth should live in a world in which “nature” is “bankrupt” and has been “Beggard of blood,” or had all its vitality removed. It is lacking something that it used to have and is now unable to infuse the rest of the world with vibrancy. It is only from the youth that this power is now drawn. Blood and veins as a symbol of youth and vitality is a common occurrence within Shakespeare’s sonnets, as is the personification of nature, time, and death.
In the last two lines of the poem, which contain the turn, or “volta,” the speaker explains that nature keeps the Fair Youth alive so that she might look upon him as an example of the peak of her creation. She used to be as beautiful as the Fair Youth is now, “before these last so bad” days. The speaker alludes to the recent bad days, forcing a reader to interpret the meaning behind his words if they are unfamiliar with the list of grievances he set out in the previous sonnet.