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Sonnets & Poems :: A Lover's Complaint

A Lover's Complaint

by William Shakespeare

From off a hill whose concave womb reworded

A plaintful story from a sist’ring vale,

My spirits t’ attend this double voice accorded,

And down I laid to list the sad-tun’d tale,

Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale

Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,

Storming her world with sorrow’s wind and rain.

Upon her head a platted hive of straw,

Which fortified her visage from the sun,

Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw

The carcass of a beauty spent and done.

Time had not scythed all that youth begun,

Nor youth all quit, but spite of heaven’s fell rage,

Some beauty peep’d through lettice of sear’d age.

Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne,

Which on it had conceited characters,

Laund’ring the silken figures in the brine

That seasoned woe had pelleted in tears,

And often reading what contents it bears;

As often shriking undistinguish’d woe,

In clamors of all size, both high and low.

Sometimes her levell’d eyes their carriage ride,

As they did batt’ry to the spheres intend;

Sometime diverted their poor balls are tied

To th’ orbed earth; sometimes they do extend

Their view right on; anon their gazes lend

To every place at once, and no where fix’d,

The mind and sight distractedly commix’d.

Her hair, nor loose nor tied in formal plat,

Proclaim’d in her a careless hand of pride;

For some untuck’d descended her sheav’d hat,

Hanging her pale and pined cheek beside;

Some in her threaden fillet still did bide,

And true to bondage would not break from thence,

Though slackly braided in loose negligence.

A thousand favors from a maund she drew,

Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet,

Which one by one she in a river threw,

Upon whose weeping margent she was set,

Like usury applying wet to wet,

Or monarch’s hands that lets not bounty fall

Where want cries some, but where excess begs all.

Of folded schedules had she many a one,

Which she perus’d, sigh’d, tore, and gave the flood,

Crack’d many a ring of posied gold and bone,

Bidding them find their sepulchres in mud,

Found yet more letters sadly penn’d in blood,

With sleided silk feat and affectedly

Enswath’d and seal’d to curious secrecy.

These often bath’d she in her fluxive eyes,

And often kiss’d, and often gan to tear;

Cried, “O false blood, thou register of lies,

What unapproved witness dost thou bear!

Ink would have seem’d more black and damned here!”

This said, in top of rage the lines she rents,

Big discontent so breaking their contents.

A reverend man that graz’d his cattle nigh,

Sometime a blusterer that the ruffle knew

Of court, of city, and had let go by

The swiftest hours, observed as they flew,

Towards this afflicted fancy fastly drew,

And privileg’d by age desires to know

In brief the grounds and motives of her woe.

So slides he down upon his grained bat,

And comely distant sits he by her side,

When he again desires her, being sat,

Her grievance with his hearing to divide:

If that from him there may be aught applied

Which may her suffering ecstasy assuage,

’Tis promis’d in the charity of age.

“Father,” she says, “though in me you behold

The injury of many a blasting hour,

Let it not tell your judgment I am old,

Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power;

I might as yet have been a spreading flower,

Fresh to myself, if I had self-applied

Love to myself, and to no love beside.

“But woe is me, too early I attended

A youthful suit—it was to gain my grace;

O, one by nature’s outwards so commended

That maidens’ eyes stuck over all his face.

Love lack’d a dwelling and made him her place;

And when in his fair parts she did abide,

She was new lodg’d and newly deified.

“His browny locks did hang in crooked curls,

And every light occasion of the wind

Upon his lips their silken parcels hurls.

What’s sweet to do, to do will aptly find:

Each eye that saw him did enchant the mind,

For on his visage was in little drawn

What largeness thinks in Paradise was sawn.

“Small show of man was yet upon his chin,

His phoenix down began but to appear

Like unshorn velvet on that termless skin,

Whose bare outbragg’d the web it seem’d to wear;

Yet showed his visage by that cost more dear,

And nice affections wavering stood in doubt

If best were as it was, or best without.

“His qualities were beauteous as his form,

For maiden-tongu’d he was, and thereof free;

Yet if men mov’d him, was he such a storm

As oft ’twixt May and April is to see,

When winds breathe sweet, unruly though they be.

His rudeness so with his authoriz’d youth

Did livery falseness in a pride of truth.

“Well could he ride, and often men would say,

‘That horse his mettle from his rider takes;

Proud of subjection, noble by the sway,

What rounds, what bounds, what course, what stop he makes!’

And controversy hence a question takes,

Whether the horse by him became his deed,

Or he his manage by th’ well-doing steed.

“But quickly on this side the verdict went:

His real habitude gave life and grace

To appertainings and to ornament,

Accomplish’d in himself, not in his case;

All aids, themselves made fairer by their place,

Came for additions, yet their purpos’d trim

Piec’d not his grace but were all grac’d by him.

“So on the tip of his subduing tongue

All kind of arguments and question deep,

All replication prompt and reason strong,

For his advantage still did wake and sleep.

To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep,

He had the dialect and different skill,

Catching all passions in his craft of will,

“That he did in the general bosom reign

Of young, of old, and sexes both enchanted,

To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain

In personal duty, following where he haunted.

Consents bewitch’d, ere he desire, have granted,

And dialogu’d for him what he would say,

Ask’d their own wills and made their wills obey.

“Many there were that did his picture get

To serve their eyes, and in it put their mind,

Like fools that in th’ imagination set

The goodly objects which abroad they find

Of lands and mansions, theirs in thought assign’d,

And laboring in more pleasures to bestow them

Than the true gouty landlord which doth owe them.

“So many have that never touch’d his hand

Sweetly suppos’d them mistress of his heart.

My woeful self that did in freedom stand,

And was my own fee-simple (not in part),

What with his art in youth and youth in art,

Threw my affections in his charmed power,

Reserv’d the stalk and gave him all my flower.

“Yet did I not as some my equals did

Demand of him, nor being desired yielded;

Finding myself in honor so forbid,

With safest distance I mine honor shielded.

Experience for me many bulwarks builded

Of proofs new-bleeding which remain’d the foil

Of this false jewel, and his amorous spoil.

“But ah, who ever shunn’d by precedent

The destin’d ill she must herself assay,

Or forc’d examples ’gainst her own content

To put the by-past perils in her way?

Counsel may stop a while what will not stay;

For when we rage, advice is often seen

By blunting us to make our wits more keen.

“Nor gives it satisfaction to our blood

That we must curb it upon others’ proof,

To be forbod the sweets that seems so good

For fear of harms that preach in our behoof.

O appetite, from judgment stand aloof!

The one a palate hath that needs will taste,

Though Reason weep and cry, ‘It is thy last.’

“For further I could say this man’s untrue,

And knew the patterns of his foul beguiling,

Heard where his plants in others’ orchards grew,

Saw how deceits were gilded in his smiling,

Knew vows were ever brokers to defiling,

Thought characters and words merely but art,

And bastards of his foul adulterate heart.

“And long upon these terms I held my city,

Till thus he gan besiege me: ‘Gentle maid,

Have of my suffering youth some feeling pity

And be not of my holy vows afraid.

That’s to ye sworn to none was ever said,

For feasts of love I have been call’d unto,

Till now did ne’er invite nor never vow.

“‘All my offenses that abroad you see

Are errors of the blood, none of the mind;

Love made them not, with acture they may be,

Where neither party is nor true nor kind:

They sought their shame that so their shame did find,

And so much less of shame in me remains

By how much of me their reproach contains.

“‘Among the many that mine eyes have seen,

Not one whose flame my heart so much as warmed,

Or my affection put to th’ smallest teen,

Or any of my leisures ever charmed.

Harm have I done to them but ne’er was harmed,

Kept hearts in liveries, but mine own was free,

And reign’d commanding in his monarchy.

“‘Look here what tributes wounded fancies sent me,

Of pallid pearls and rubies red as blood:

Figuring that they their passions likewise lent me

Of grief and blushes, aptly understood

In bloodless white and the encrimson’d mood,

Effects of terror and dear modesty,

Encamp’d in hearts but fighting outwardly.

“‘And lo behold these talents of their hair,

With twisted metal amorously impleach’d,

I have receiv’d from many a several fair,

Their kind acceptance weepingly beseech’d,

With th’ annexions of fair gems enrich’d,

And deep-brain’d sonnets that did amplify

Each stone’s dear nature, worth, and quality.

“‘The diamond? Why, ’twas beautiful and hard,

Whereto his invis’d properties did tend;

The deep-green em’rald, in whose fresh regard

Weak sights their sickly radiance do amend;

The heaven-hu’d sapphire and the opal blend

With objects manifold: each several stone,

With wit well blazon’d, smil’d or made some moan.

“‘Lo all these trophies of affections hot,

Of pensiv’d and subdu’d desires the tender,

Nature hath charg’d me that I hoard them not,

But yield them up where I myself must render:

That is to you, my origin and ender;

For these of force must your oblations be,

Since I their altar, you enpatron me.

“‘O then advance (of yours) that phraseless hand,

Whose white weighs down the airy scale of praise,

Take all these similes to your own command,

Hallowed with sighs that burning lungs did raise;

What me, your minister, for you obeys,

Works under you, and to your audit comes

Their distract parcels in combined sums.

“‘Lo this device was sent me from a nun,

Or sister sanctified, of holiest note,

Which late her noble suit in court did shun,

Whose rarest havings made the blossoms dote,

For she was sought by spirits of richest coat,

But kept cold distance, and did thence remove

To spend her living in eternal love.

“‘But, O my sweet, what labor is’t to leave

The thing we have not, mast’ring what not strives,

Playing the place which did no form receive,

Playing patient sports in unconstrained gyves?

She that her fame so to herself contrives,

The scars of battle scapeth by the flight,

And makes her absence valiant, not her might.

“‘O, pardon me, in that my boast is true:

The accident which brought me to her eye

Upon the moment did her force subdue,

And now she would the caged cloister fly:

Religious love put out religion’s eye.

Not to be tempted would she be enur’d,

And now to tempt all liberty procur’d.

“‘How mighty then you are, O, hear me tell!

The broken bosoms that to me belong

Have emptied all their fountains in my well,

And mine I pour your ocean all among:

I strong o’er them, and you o’er me being strong,

Must for your victory us all congest,

As compound love to physic your cold breast.

“‘My parts had pow’r to charm a sacred nun,

Who disciplin’d, ay, dieted in grace,

Believ’d her eyes when they t’ assail begun,

All vows and consecrations giving place.

O most potential love! Vow, bond, nor space

In thee hath neither sting, knot, nor confine,

For thou art all, and all things else are thine.

“‘When thou impressest, what are precepts worth

Of stale example? When thou wilt inflame,

How coldly those impediments stand forth

Of wealth, of filial fear, law, kindred, fame!

Love’s arms are peace, ’gainst rule, ’gainst sense, ’gainst shame,

And sweetens, in the suff’ring pangs it bears,

The aloes of all forces, shocks, and fears.

“‘Now all these hearts that do on mine depend,

Feeling it break, with bleeding groans they pine,

And supplicant their sighs to you extend

To leave the batt’ry that you make ’gainst mine,

Lending soft audience to my sweet design,

And credent soul to that strong-bonded oath

That shall prefer and undertake my troth.’

“This said, his wat’ry eyes he did dismount,

Whose sights till then were levell’d on my face,

Each cheek a river running from a fount

With brinish current downward flow’d apace:

O how the channel to the stream gave grace!

Who glaz’d with crystal gate the glowing roses

That flame through water which their hue encloses.

“O father, what a hell of witchcraft lies

In the small orb of one particular tear!

But with the inundation of the eyes

What rocky heart to water will not wear?

What breast so cold that is not warmed here?

O cleft effect! Cold modesty, hot wrath,

Both fire from hence and chill extincture hath.

“For lo his passion, but an art of craft,

Even there resolv’d my reason into tears,

There my white stole of chastity I daff’d,

Shook off my sober guards and civil fears;

Appear to him as he to me appears,

All melting, though our drops this diff’rence bore:

His poison’d me, and mine did him restore.

“In him a plenitude of subtle matter,

Applied to cautels, all strange forms receives,

Of burning blushes, or of weeping water,

Or sounding paleness; and he takes and leaves,

In either’s aptness as it best deceives,

To blush at speeches rank, to weep at woes,

Or to turn white and sound at tragic shows;

“That not a heart which in his level came

Could scape the hail of his all-hurting aim,

Showing fair nature is both kind and tame;

And veil’d in them did win whom he would maim.

Against the thing he sought he would exclaim:

When he most burnt in heart-wish’d luxury,

He preach’d pure maid, and prais’d cold chastity.

“Thus merely with the garment of a Grace

The naked and concealed fiend he cover’d,

That th’ unexperient gave the tempter place,

Which like a cherubin above them hover’d.

Who, young and simple, would not be so lover’d?

Ay me, I fell, and yet do question make

What I should do again for such a sake.

“O, that infected moisture of his eye,

O, that false fire which in his cheek so glowed,

O, that forc’d thunder from his heart did fly,

O, that sad breath his spungy lungs bestowed,

O, all that borrowed motion seeming owed,

Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d,

And new pervert a reconciled maid!”

Play Sources

None known.

Text Sources

Quarto 1 of 1609

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