Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Beauty’s Epitome
By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
From “As You Like It,” Act III. Scene 2

WHY should this a desert be? 1
  For it is unpeopled? No;
Tongues I’ll hang on every tree,
  That shall civil sayings show.
Some, how brief the life of man        5
  Runs his erring pilgrimage;
That the stretching of a span
  Buckles in his sum of age.
Some, of violated vows
  ’Twixt the souls of friend and friend:        10
But upon the fairest boughs,
  Or at every sentence’ end,
Will I Rosalinda write,
  Teaching all that read to know
The quintessence of every sprite        15
  Heaven would in little 2 show.
Therefore heaven nature charged
  That one body should be filled
With all graces wide-enlarged:
  Nature presently distilled        20
Helen’s cheek, but not her heart,
  Cleopatra’s majesty,
Atalanta’s better part, 3
  Sad Lucretia’s modesty.
Thus Rosalind of many parts        25
  By heavenly synod was devised;
Of many faces, eyes, and hearts,
  To have the touches dearest prized.
Heaven would that she these gifts should have,
And I to live and die her slave.        30
 
Note 1. Why should this a desert be: Tyrwhitt thinks desert be is defective. He suggests a desert, and adds: “For how will the ‘hanging of tongues on every tree’ make it less a desert? I am persuaded we ought to read: ‘Why should this desert silent be.’” [back]
Note 2. In little: The allusion to a miniature portrait. The current phrase in Shakespeare’s time was “painted in little.” [back]
Note 3. Atalanta’s better part. This is obscure; for a discussion see Furness’ Variorum Ed. Shakespeare, pp. 149–153. [back]
 
 
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