From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
The first seventeen sonnets are addressed to the poet's breathtaking friend, whose identity is unknown, assuming he existed at all. The poet's focus in these sonnets is to persuade his friend to start a family, so that his beauty can live on through his children. Note the similarities between Sonnet 1 and Romeo and Juliet (1.1.201-206).
From fairest creatures (1): From all beautiful creatures.
we desire increase (1): we want offspring.
riper (3): more ripe.
contracted to (5): bound only to.
Feed'st thy light's...fuel (6): Feed your eyes (light's flame) with only the sight of yourself - i.e., you are self-consumed.
only (10): chief.
gaudy (10): showy (not used in the modern pejorative sense); from Middle English gaude, a yellowish green color or pigment.
niggarding (12): hoarding.
the world's due (14): what you owe to the world, i.e. the perpetuation of your beauty. The grave, which will already consume the young man's body, will also eat any chance of his beauty living on, if the young man helps the grave by himself being gluttonous (in his refusal to have children). Steevens conjectures that the line should read "'To eat the world's due, be thy grave and thee;' i.e. be at once thyself, and thy grave" (Alden, p. 19)
Paraphrase of Sonnet 1 in Contemporary English
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 1. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/1.html >.
Shakespeare, William. The sonnets of Shakespeare from the quarto of 1609. Ed. Raymond MacDonald Alden. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.
Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?
Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
An Elizabethan Christmas
Clothing in Elizabethan England
Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
Going to a Play in Elizabethan London
Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
Publishing in Elizabethan England
Religion in Shakespeare's England
Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
Entertainment in Elizabethan England
London's First Public Playhouse
Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
More to Explore
How to Analyze a Shakespearean Sonnet
The Rules of Shakespearean Sonnets
The Contents of the Sonnets in Brief
Shakespeare's Sonnets: Q & A
Theories Regarding the Sonnets
Are Shakespeare's Sonnets Autobiographical?
Petrarch's Influence on Shakespeare
Theme Organization in the Sonnets
Shakespeare's Greatest Love Poem
Shakespeare and the Earl of Southampton
The Order of the Sonnets
The Date of the Sonnets
Who was Mr. W. H.?
Are all the Sonnets addressed to two Persons?
Who was The Rival Poet?
Shakespeare's Greatest Metaphors
Shakespeare's Metaphors and Similes
A Look at Metaphors ... "Metaphors are of two kinds, viz. Radical, when a word or root of some general meaning is employed with reference to diverse objects on account of an idea of some similarity between them, just as the adjective 'dull' is used with reference to light, edged tools, polished surfaces, colours, sounds, pains, wits, and social functions; and Poetical, where a word of specialized use in a certain context is used in another context in which it is literally inappropriate, through some similarity in function or relation, as 'the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune', where 'slings' and 'arrows', words of specialized meaning in the context of ballistics, are transferred to a context of fortune." Percival Vivian. Read on...
Shakespeare on Jealousy
Shakespeare on Lawyers
Shakespeare on Lust
Shakespeare on Marriage
Blank Verse and Diction in Shakespeare's Hamlet
Analysis of the Characters in Hamlet
Shakespeare on the Seasons
Shakespeare on Sleep