If thou survive my well-contented day,
When that churl death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceasèd lover,
Compare them with the bett'ring of the time,
And though they be outstripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
“Had my friend’s muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought
To march in ranks of better equipage.
But since he died and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.”
If you survive me, living on after dust covers my bones, and you should happen to read over again these poor, crude sonnets written by the man who once loved you, remember that things have improved since my day. So even though any poet today could write better sonnets, keep my poems for the sake of my love, not for my skill, which luckier men have far surpassed. And grant me this loving thought: “If my friend’s inspiration was paired with the advantages today’s poets have, his love would have brought forth better poems than these, to rank alongside those of today’s better poets. But since he died, and poets are better now, I’ll read their poems for their style, his for his love.”