Original Text

Modern Text

If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, lab'ring for invention, bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
O that recórd could with a backward look,
Ev'n of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some ántique book,
Since mind at first in character was done,
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composèd wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or where better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
  O sure I am the wits of former days
  To subjects worse have giv'n admiring praise.
If it’s true that there’s nothing new and everything that now exists existed in the past, then we are really fooling ourselves when we struggle to write something new, winding up, after much exhausting, painful labor, with a tired imitation of an imitation! If only I could look back into the records, even as far as five hundred years ago, and find a description of you in some old book, written when people were just beginning to put their thoughts in writing, so I could see what the old world would say about your amazingly beautiful body. Then I could see whether we’ve gotten better at writing or worse, or whether things have stayed the same as the world revolves. Oh, I’m sure the witty writers of the past have devoted praise and admiration to worse subjects than you.

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