So is it not with me as with that Muse,
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare,
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O! let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me, my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven’s air:
Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell.
Sonnet 21 in modern English
I am not like that poet who uses artificial comparisons, even images of heaven itself, to enhance his descriptions of his loved one, tediously likening every beautiful object to his love, in exaggerated comparisons with the sun and the moon, the fresh spring flowers, and all those wonderful things that reflect heaven on earth. Oh, let me be truthful in love but match that with truth in my poems. Believe me, then, my love is as beautiful as anyone else, although not as bright as the stars. Let those who love gossip say, if they want to, that I won’t praise something that I have no intention of selling.
Watch Sir Patrick Stewart read Shakespeare’s sonnet 21
The 1609 Quarto sonnet 21 version
AWomans face with natures owne hande painted,
Haſte thou, the Maſter Miſtris of my paſſion,
A womans gentle hart but not acquainted
With ſhifting change as is falſe womens faſhion,
An eye more bright then theirs,leſſe falſe in rowling:
Gilding the obiect where-vpon it gazeth,
A man in hew all Hews in his controwling,
Which ſteales mens eyes and womens ſoules amaſeth,
And for a woman wert thou firſt created,
Till nature as ſhe wrought thee fell a dotinge,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpoſe nothing.
But ſince ſhe prickt thee out for womens pleaſure,
Mine be thy loue and thy loues vſe their treaſure.
See the British Library’s 1609 Quarto.