Sonnet for Advent 13: Sonnet 81

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Sonnet 81 itself is an epitaph and a monument in two ways. First, through the ‘gentle verse’ itself as written and printed, and as it will be read by future readers. Second, and even more powerfully, this verse-memorial comes to life whenever this sonnet is spoken aloud. The addressee – and, please note, there’s no mention of love in this sonnet – will literally haunt the world through the breath and in the mouth of any reader who reads this poem. The word ‘rehearse’ evokes the theatre and seems to encourage us to read the sonnet aloud.

Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten.
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die.
The earth can yield me but a common grave
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live – such virtue hath my pen –
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Click on the post below to hear Sonnet 81 read by Professor Ewan Fernie, convener of Shakespeare and Creativity at The Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham.

You might like to visit a similar Shakespeare for Advent project led by students at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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