The Quality of Mercy

Portia’s speech on mercy, from The Merchant of Venice. I may have posted it during previous years, but it’s worth repeating.


The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, . . .
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.



Happy birthday, Shakespeare!

451 years ago this month, William Shakespeare was christened in Stratford-upon-Avon, so here is a poem to commemorate his birth.

I love this sonnet. The gist is, “Words can’t describe how beautiful you are, or how much you mean to me.” It reminds me of Darcy’s reply to Elizabeth’s accusation, that “A man who felt less might [say more].” As someone married to a relatively silent man, I know firsthand that a person can feel deeply but say little. In fact, I’ve grown so used to watching what my husband does that I almost distrust what people say. A man with a glib tongue and a quick compliment arouses my suspicion, not my approval. And although Shakespeare is known for his ability to turn a clever phrase, in the face of love, we are all tongue-tied. Anyway, enjoy.

Sonnet 83

I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt.

And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb.
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
When others would give life and bring a tomb.

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

NPM: Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Ain't no party like a Shakespeare party 'cause a Shakespeare party would be in iambic pentameter.
Ain’t no party like a Shakespeare party ’cause a Shakespeare party would be in iambic pentameter.

Yesterday (it’s the 24th where I am, though WordPress doesn’t seem to know it) was William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday (ish)! Woo hoo! His actual birthdate is not entirely clear, but we do know he was christened on Apr 26th. So to celebrate, I’m asking you to leave a comment here containing or referring to your favorite Shakespearean poem or quote by Apr 26th. Anyone who comments will be entered in a drawing to win… something appropriately Shakespearean. My favorite play (or maybe yours), or a screen adaptation, or maybe a really nice picture. I haven’t decided yet. One entry per comment.

Here is a sonnet by Shakespeare.

Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she is made of truth,
I do believe her though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue,
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told.
Therefore, I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.

Just a Little More Shakespeare

Ok, this is the last of Shakespeare for the month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ll try to find something more contemporary for next week. This sonnet is maybe less well-known, but it’s very sweet and wistful (or maybe bitter?) once you figure it out. This is one of those sonnets where the overall point is communicated in the last two lines. Sometimes it helps to read those first, and then read the rest of the poem. Also, sonnets often set up expectations in the first stanza and contradict them (while developing the idea further) in the second. If you’ve ever spent a sleepless night far from the one you love, maybe you can relate to this poem.



Is it thy will thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken
While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?
Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?

O no, thy love, though much, is not so great.
It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,
To play the watchman ever for thy sake.
For thee watch I, while thou dost wake elsewhere
From me far off, with others all too near.


Shakespeare Knows You’re Going to Get Old and Ugly

Another sonnet of Shakespeare’s, because I’m still celebrating his birthday. Note his solution to the inevitability of old age (for those lucky enough to live that long) isn’t to buy a specific product or to wear all black (it’s slimming!), but to have kids. Kids make you feel old (because they are SO YOUNG and SO FAST) and also young (because everything’s fresh to them, and, as a parent, you share their eyes for a while sometimes). So maybe our pal Will is on to something. What do you think?


When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed of small worth held.

Then, being asked where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou could’s answer, ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine.

This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it could.

Sleepless Nights

Here’s another sonnet, Shakespearean this time– literally, since this one is by The Bard himself. Not all of us are so lucky to be kept awake by the agony of distant love. So, for today’s question, tell me what keeps you up at night? Or what runs through your mind just before you drop off?

Sonnet 27

Weary with toil I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired,
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind when body’s work’s expired.
For then my thoughts from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see,

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel hung in ghastly night
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo, thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.

Shakespeare, Of Course

Obviously I can’t let National Poetry Month end without paying homage to The Bard. And since today is Prince William and (now Princess) Kate’s wedding day (though noting that may mean I’m unpatriotic), a love poem is appropriate. This poem isn’t about new, fresh, love, though, so it’s not really directed at wedding day exuberance. It is, perhaps, more about golden years love. Read it and let me know what you think.

"The Eternity of Morning" by Vaughn Teegarden

Sonnet 74

But be contented when that fell attest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.

When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee.
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My sp’rit is thine, the better part of me.

So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.

The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.