William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare – Sonnet 94

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow;
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet,
The basest weed out-braves his dignity;

For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

NOTES

XCIV. The poet, in the preceding Sonnet, had set forth the possibility of his friend being false at heart, although his countenance should give no indication of unfaithfulness. But the ability to restrain the expression of emotion, and not to publish to the world by changes of countenance the thoughts and feelings of the heart, may be regarded as a virtue, or at least as a valuable endowment. Persons of this temperament isolate themselves, it is true; but this does not destroy their virtue. The flower is still sweet whose sweetness is wasted on the desert air. But such virtue when corrupted acquires an odour far ranker than that of undisguised profligacy or unrestrained passion.

1. Have power to hurt and will do none. Are not impetuous and passionate.

2-8 Cf. Hamlet, Act iii. sc. 2, lines 70-76,
“Thou hast been As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing; A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards Has ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger To sound what stop she please.”
Shakespeare, himself perhaps very sensitive and quickly moved, may have appreciated too highly a different kind of character. As to the corruption of such a character as that here described, compare the portraiture of Angelo in Measure for Measure.

6. They do not expend their energies in passionate outbursts.

7. They are the lords and owners of their faces. Not giving ready expression to emotion.

8. Others but stewards. Passion being lord.

10. Cf. liv.

14. Fester. Corrupt. Persons of the character in question are colourless “lilies” rather than blushing roses. This line had previously appeared in Edward III., a play some have attributed in part to Shakespeare.

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