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.
 
Absence
By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
FROM 1 you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything, 2
That 3 heavy Saturn laugh’d and leap’d with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell        5
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell, 4
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the Lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the Rose;        10
They were but sweet, 5 but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
  Yet seem’d it Winter still, and, you away,
  As with your shadow I with these did play.
 
Note 1. Sonnet xcviii. in Shake-speare’s Sonnettes, 1609. The sonnet following this (No. 423) in the sequence is numbered xcvii., and treats of absence in Summer and Autumn. Professor Dowden thought it begun a new group. To me, however, the better arrangement, especially for my purpose here, is the transposition I have made, though Mr. Quiller-Couch and other editors have followed the order in the Series. The mood here is of Absence in Spring. [back]
Note 2. Lines 2–3, Proud-pied April: Cf. Romeo and Juliet, act i. sc. 2:
  Such comfort as do lusty young men feel
When well-apparell’d April on the heel
Of limping winter treads.
Note 3. That: so that. [back]
Note 4. Summer’s story tell: By a Summer’s story Shakespeare seems to have meant some gay fiction. Thus, his comedy founded on the adventures of the king and queen of the fairies he calls A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On the other hand, in The Winter’s Tale he tells us “a sad tale’s best for winter.” So also in Cymbeline, act iii. sc. 4:
                      —if it be summer news
Smile to it before: if winterly, thou needst
But keep that countenance still.
(Malone.)    
Note 5. They were but sweet: Malone proposed, “they were, my sweet, but,” etc. The poet declares, as Steevens says, that the flowers are only sweet, only delightful, so far as they resemble his friend. Lettsom proposes: “They mere but fleeting figures of delight.” (Dowden.) [back]
 
 
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