O! lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me, that you should love
After my death,–dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove.
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceased I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart:
O! lest your true love may seem false in this
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
And so should you, to love things nothing worth.
Sonnet 72: Translation to modern English
Oh, in case the world should challenge you to say what merit there was in me that could make you love me, forget me completely once I’m dead, dear love, because you couldn’t say anything convincing about me unless you could invent some generous lie which would make me sound better than I deserve and attach more praise to my deceased self than the ungenerous truth would. Oh, in case your true love should become false by doing that – as it will if you speak well of me, untruthfully, out of love for me – let my name be buried with my body and not live to bring shame to me nor you. Because I’m ashamed of the things I create, and you should be too, to love such worthless things.