To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

Original Text: 
William Shakespeare, Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, tragedies, & tragedies (Isaac Jaggard and Ed. Blount, 1623). STC 22273. Facs. edn.: Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902. F-10 356 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). New York: Norton, 1968. PR 2751 A15 1968.
2Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;
3While I confess thy writings to be such
4As neither man nor muse can praise too much;
5'Tis true, and all men's suffrage. But these ways
6Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise;
8Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right;
9Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
10The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;
11Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
12And think to ruin, where it seem'd to raise.
13These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
14Should praise a matron; what could hurt her more?
15But thou art proof against them, and indeed,
16Above th' ill fortune of them, or the need.
17I therefore will begin. Soul of the age!
18The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!
20Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
21A little further, to make thee a room:
22Thou art a monument without a tomb,
23And art alive still while thy book doth live
24And we have wits to read and praise to give.
25That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses,
27For if I thought my judgment were of years,
28I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
31And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
32From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
33For names; but call forth thund'ring Æschylus,
34Euripides and Sophocles to us;
38Leave thee alone for the comparison
39Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
40Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
41Triúmph, my Britain, thou hast one to show
43He was not of an age but for all time!
44And all the Muses still were in their prime,
45When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm
46Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm!
47Nature herself was proud of his designs
48And joy'd to wear the dressing of his lines,
49Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
50As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.
52Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please,
53But antiquated and deserted lie,
54As they were not of Nature's family.
55Yet must I not give Nature all: thy art,
56My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.
57For though the poet's matter nature be,
58His art doth give the fashion; and, that he
60(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
61Upon the Muses' anvil; turn the same
62(And himself with it) that he thinks to frame,
63Or, for the laurel, he may gain a scorn;
64For a good poet's made, as well as born;
65And such wert thou. Look how the father's face
66Lives in his issue, even so the race
67Of Shakespeare's mind and manners brightly shines
68In his well-turned, and true-filed lines;
70As brandish'd at the eyes of ignorance.
71Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were
72To see thee in our waters yet appear,
75But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
76Advanc'd, and made a constellation there!
77Shine forth, thou star of poets, and with rage
79Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn'd like night,
80And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.

Notes

1] Prefixed to the first folio edition of Shakespeare's works, 1623. Back to Line
7] seeliest: simplest, most artless. Back to Line
19] An allusion to an elegy by William Basse, written before 1623, first printed in Donne's Poems, 1633, and again in the 1640 edition of Shakespeare's Poems:
Renowned Spenser, lie a thought more nigh
To learned Chaucer, and rare Beaumont lie
A little nearer Spenser, to make room
For Shakespeare in your threefold-fourfold tomb.
Back to Line
26] Muses: poets. Back to Line
29] Lyly: John Lyly (1554-1606), author of Euphues of eight witty and refined comedies. Back to Line
30] sporting Kyd: Thomas Kyd (1558-1594), author of The Spanish Tragedy, a drama of blood and revenge. He is called "sporting' partly in irony, partly for the sake of the pun.
Marlowe's mighty line. The plays of Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) are characterized by loftiness and sonorousness of diction and versification. Back to Line
35] Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead: Roman tragedians. Pacuvius 220-129 B.C.; Accius, b. 170 B.C.; him of Cordova is Seneca. Back to Line
36] buskin: high-heeled boot, worn by classical actors of tragedy. Back to Line
37] socks: comedies. The soccus was the low shoe worn by the Roman comedian. Back to Line
42] scenes: stages, theatres. Back to Line
51] merry Greek. Besides their literal meaning these words also have the sense of a jester or merry rascal. In the old comedy Ralph Roister Doister, a jesting parasite is named Matthew Merrygreek. Back to Line
59] casts: plans. Back to Line
69] A punning allusion to the dramatist's name, Shakespeare. Back to Line
73] The Globe Theatre was situated on the southern bank of the Thames, not far above London Bridge. Back to Line
74] like: charm, enchant.
Eliza and our James: Elizabeth and James I. Back to Line
78] influence: the occult power exercised by the stars over human destiny. Here used in a good sense in contrast to rage. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1623
RPO poem Editors: 
F. D. Hoeniger
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.161.
Form: