By that sweet ornament which truth doth give.
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour, which doth in it live.
The canker blooms have full as deep a dye
As the perfumed tincture of the roses,
Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly
When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:
But, for their virtue only is their show,
They live unwoo’d, and unrespected fade;
Die to themselves. Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall vade, my verse distills your truth.
Sonnet 54: Translation to modern English
Oh, how much more beautiful beauty appears when accompanied by the lovely ornament of integrity! Roses look beautiful but we see them as even more beautiful because of that wonderful perfume that lives in them. Dog roses have every bit as intense a colour as the perfumed hue of those roses; have the same thorns, and blow as appealingly when the breath of summer opens their buds. But because their appearance is their only virtue they live obscurely and die unnoticed, in loneliness. Sweet roses don’t – the most fragrant odours are distilled from their beautiful corpses. And that’s the case with you, beautiful and lovely youth: when that fades my verse will distil your essence.