Within thine own bud buriest thy content, And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding
In Sonnet 1, the speaker criticizes the man possessed with good looks and other personal endowments who chooses not to have children. Passing on his genetic strengths to a new generation would preserve his gifts in the world. The speakers says that by not having a child, the young man squanders his natural gifts and deprives himself of his own happiness. Clearly, the speaker believes that great beauty holds a responsibility, requiring stewardship to make sure excellence passes on. The speaker argues that not only does the world need such a contribution, but the young man’s own happiness will suffer if he does not procreate.
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field, Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now, Will be a tattered weed, of small worth held.
In Sonnet 2, the speaker tells the handsome young man that in forty years’ time his current looks will fade to a shadow of their former worth. The speaker obviously values personal appearance highly, but he knows that the aging process and the stress of life erode good looks. The speaker urges the young man to have children and pass his benefits on to the next generation. As the speaker wants the young man to have children, he appeals to his vanity as well as his sense of mortality, encouraging the young man to accept that his youth and beauty will not last forever.
O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
In Sonnet 54, the speaker explains that beauty seems even more valuable when accompanied by honesty and kindness. He goes on to compare admirable people to flowers. By way of illustration, roses have both beauty and a lovely fragrance, while pretty wildflowers have no other admirable qualities. People soon forget self-absorbed individuals who depend on their physical appearance for their legacy. But those who add kindness and honesty secure a place in people’s memories.
For since each hand hath put on nature’s pow’r, Fairing the foul with art’s false borrowed face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bow’r, But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
In Sonnet 127, the speaker explains why the idea of beauty has changed: Anyone possesses the means to make themselves beautiful, even those born without beauty. He points out that nature alone used to have such power, but times have changed. While the speaker makes clear how highly he values beauty in others, he also clearly states that if beauty is not rare or naturally obtained, then beauty loses all value.