Sonnet 68

Shakespeare. Sonnet 1

«Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flowers do now».

Because the young man epitomizes ancient standards of true beauty, he does not need cosmetics or a wig made from “the golden tresses of the dead.”

Sonnet 68
Read and listen

Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flowers do now,
Before the bastard signs of fair were born,
Or durst inhabit on a living brow;
Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchres, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head;
Ere beauty’s dead fleece made another gay:
In him those holy antique hours are seen,
Without all ornament, itself and true,
Making no summer of another’s green,
Robbing no old to dress his beauty new;
And him as for a map doth Nature store,
To show false Art what beauty was of yore.

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list

In these sonnets, the poet exhibits a general tendency to censure poetic extravagance and to identify such lavishness with the youth’s false friends, as well as with the cosmetic vogue, which the poet castigates as “bastard signs of fair.” So the poet invokes the natural beauty — “Without all ornament, itself and true” — of classical times.

Sonnet 68 and the previous sonnet are more concerned with the poet’s criticism of his cultural age than criticism of the young man. Perhaps because the poet has been spurned by this cultural age, he retaliates against other artists and poets. Or perhaps because the definition of beauty is changing, the poet fears that the young man will no longer be seen as the standard of beauty; his own sonnets will then be viewed as old, stale, outdated verse. Whatever the reason, the poet strongly condemns this general decline in what is perceived as beautiful. For the poet, the young man remains natural beauty, while the contemporary world is “false Art.”

««« Sonnet 67
»»» Sonnet 69


English audio from YouTube Channel Socratica

Summary from

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list