From Fairest Creatures, Sonnet 1, Shakespeare: Summary & Analysis

"From fairest creatures we desire increase" is a Shakespearean sonnet that delves into the theme of time, beauty, and self-destructive behavior. The speaker contemplates the human desire for procreation to preserve beauty and memory, contrasting it with the self-absorption and cruelty exhibited by the subject of the poem. The poem highlights the tension between the fleeting nature of physical beauty and the destructive consequences of self-centeredness.

"From fairest creatures we desire increase"

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauties Rose might neuer die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heire might beare his memory:
But thou contracted to thine owne bright eyes,
Feed’st thy lights flame with selfe substantiall fewell,
Making a famine where aboundance lies,
Thy selfe thy foe, to thy sweet selfe too cruell:
Thou that art now the worlds fresh ornament,
And only herauld to the gaudy spring,
Within thine owne bud buriest thy content,
And tender chorle makst wast in niggarding:
Pitty the world, or else this glutton be,
To eate the worlds due, by the graue and thee.

Modern English Translation

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
So that the beauty's rose might never die,
But as the older ones should pass with time,
Their tender heirs could carry on their memory:
But you, dedicated only to your own bright eyes,
Feed your light's flame with self-sustaining fuel,
Creating scarcity where abundance lies,
You're your own enemy, too harsh to yourself:
You, who are now the world's fresh ornament,
And the only herald to the flashy spring,
Bury your own content within your own bud,
And, miserly, waste what's precious in niggardliness:
Have pity on the world, or else be this glutton,
To consume the world's rightful legacy, both at the grave and within you.

Summary

"From fairest creatures we desire increase" reflects on the desire to procreate and preserve beauty through generations. The speaker criticizes someone who is self-absorbed and wasteful, burying their potential within themselves and depriving the world of their beauty. The poem highlights the contrast between self-centeredness and the natural order of life.

Critical Analysis

The sonnet explores the paradox of beauty and selfishness. The speaker addresses the conventional notion of procreation to perpetuate beauty and memory, juxtaposing it with the subject's self-indulgence.

The metaphor of "thy lights flame" consuming "selfe substantiall fewell" creates a vivid image of self-destructive behavior. The subject's preoccupation with their own beauty leads to spiritual famine and isolation.

The speaker highlights the subject's self-cruelty, portraying them as their own enemy by choosing isolation over connection and self-indulgence over generativity.

The subject is described as "the worlds fresh ornament" and "only herauld to the gaudy spring," underscoring their significance in the world. However, this importance is juxtaposed with the wastefulness of hiding their potential.

Themes

  • Fleeting Beauty: The poem explores the fleeting nature of physical beauty and the desire to preserve it through procreation.
  • Self-Centeredness: The poem criticizes self-indulgence and the negative consequences of prioritizing oneself over others.
  • Wastefulness: The subject's wasteful behavior symbolizes a failure to contribute positively to the world, despite their potential.

Attitudes/Feelings

  • Criticism: The speaker criticizes the subject's self-absorbed and wasteful behavior, emphasizing its negative impact.
  • Contrast: The poem conveys a contrast between the traditional notion of beauty's perpetuation and the subject's selfish actions.

Literary Devices

  • Metaphor: The metaphor of "thy lights flame" consuming "selfe substantiall fewell" illustrates the destructive nature of the subject's behavior.
  • Contrast: The poem contrasts the idea of procreation to preserve beauty with the subject's wasteful and self-centered actions.

Discussion Question

How does "From fairest creatures we desire increase" convey the tension between the desire for beauty's preservation and the consequences of self-centeredness? How does the speaker's criticism of the subject's behavior reflect broader societal attitudes towards the importance of contributing to the world?

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