Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Poetry of William Shakespeare (April is Poetry Month)

The play’s the thing – unless of course you are reading Shakespeare’s poetry

And since April is Poetry Month, I thought it a good time to finish off the rest of Shakespeare’s poetry. The rest – meaning everything besides The Sonnets, which I previously commented on HERE.

That leaves two lengthy poems, a mid-length poem, and a number of shorter works.

Venus and Adonis – (199 x six line stanzas, or 1194 lines)
The tale of the goddess Venus and her tragic love for beautiful young Adonis. For all her legendary beauty and charm, Venus cannot win the love of Adonis who just wants to go hunting.

O what a war of looks was then between them!
Her eyes, petitioners to his eyes suing;
His eyes saw her eyes as they had not seen them
Her eyes woo’d still, his eyes disdain’d the wooing 

When Adonis is killed on the hunt, Venus despairs and curses love forever to be marked by sorrow and pain.

The Rape of Lucrece – (265 x seven line stanzas, or 1855 lines)

You can probably infer the subject. Lucrece is the beautiful and virtuous wife of Roman soldier Collatine, who makes the mistake of bragging of her beauty to Tarquin, a fellow soldier. Tarquin must see for himself, and when he does, tragically – the die is cast. Once the deed is done, Tarquin flees.

He thence departs a heavy convertite;
She there remains a hopeless castaway;
He in his speed looks for the morning light;
She prays she never may behold the day; …

Tarquin flees, Lucrece sends for Collatine, and vows…

‘Yet die I will not till my Collatine
Have heard the cause of my untimely death;
That he may vow, in that sad hour of mine,
Revenge on him that made me stop my breath.
My stained blood to Tarquin I’ll bequeath
Which by him tainted shall for him be spent,
And as his due writ in my testament.

A Lover’s Complaint – (47 x seven line stanzas, or 329 lines)

The tragic tale of a young maid, who yields to a charming seducer, who abandons her shortly after having his way. A kindly older gentleman sees her despair and inquires; she tells of how artfully she was seduced.

‘But woe is me! Too early I attended
A youthful suit (it was to gain my grace)
Of one by nature’s outwards so commended
That maiden’s eyes struck over all his face;
Love lack’d a dwelling, and made him her place;

And yet, she also admits, she would yield again.

‘O, that infected moisture of his eye,
O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow’d
O, that forc’d thunder from his heart did fly,
O, that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow’d
O, all that borrow’d motion, seeming ow’d
Would yet again betray the fore-betray’d
And new pervert a reconciled maid!’

The Passionate Pilgrim – (collection of 20 short poems, most of which are now considered not genuinely Shakespeare, but still published under this collective title.

Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music – (six miscellaneous sonnets, distinct from The Sonnets)

He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need
If thou sorrow he will weep;
If thou wake, he cannot sleep;
Thus of every grief in heart
He with thee doth bear a part
These are certain signs to know
Faithful friend from flattering foe

The Phoenix and the Turtle

The name is a bit of a misnomer; it about the Phoenix and the Turtledove – representing perfection and love, or in combination perfect love. 

Yay! finally a cheerful poem, yes?

No. The poem is about their funeral, attended by other birds of various symbolism. 

Not surprising, Shakespeare’s poetry is rather morose. Hence, I cannot say I enjoyed any of it, but I certainly admired the works. The longer poems in particular – to keep the meter, pattern, rhyme, and rhythm, and also tell a cohesive tale – is truly remarkable.


  1. I wasn't aware of his poetry outside of his sonnets. Great post!

    1. Thanks Rob. I really didn't know much about it either, until I bought a complete works of WS. I liked most of these more than the sonnets, and most were a bit easier to read as well (though that is at least partially getting more acquainted with WS)


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