Table of Contents
From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase
Meanings Of Words/Phrases
- From fairest creatures (line 1): From all beautiful creatures
- We desire increase (line 1): we want offspring
- Riper (line 3): more ripe
- Contracted to (line 5): bound only to
- Feed’st thy light’s…fuel (line 6): Feed your eyes (light’s flame) with only the sight of yourself – i.e., you are self-consumed.
- Only (line 10): chief.
- Gaudy (line 10): showy (not used in the modern uncomplimentary sense); from Middle English gaude, a
- Yellowish-green colour or pigment niggarding (line 12): hoarding
- The world’s due (line 14): what you owe to the world, i.e. the continuation of your beauty. The grave, which will consume the young man’s body, will also eat any chance of his beauty living on if the young man helps the grave by himself being gluttonous (in his refusal to have children).
The first sonnet ‘From Fairest Creatures We Desire Increase’, from the collection Sonnets, implies to the fact that we desire beautiful creatures to multiply, in order to preserve their ‘beauty’ for the benefit of the world. It can be considered this way that when the parent dies (“as the riper should by time decease”), the child might continue with the parent’s beauty (“His tender heir might bear his memory”). The death of the parent should not mean the death of beauty; the beauty of the rose should be carried forward through the children.
In the second quatrain, the poet blames the young man for being too self-absorbed to even think of procreation: he is “contracted” to his own “bright eyes,” and feeds his light with the fuel of his own attractiveness. The speaker says that this makes the young man his own unsuspecting rival, because this nature of his makes “a famine where abundance lies”. Accumulating all the love by the young man for his own beauty only is really an act of immaturity.
In the third quatrain, he argues that the young man may now be beautiful – he is undoubtedly “the world’s fresh ornament / And only herald to the gaudy spring” – but that, in time, his beauty will fade, and he will bury his “content” within his flower’s own bud (that is, he will not pass his beauty on; it will wither with him). In the couplet, the speaker asks the young man to “pity the world” and replicate, or else be a glutton who, like the grave, eats the beauty he owes to the whole world. His beauty is not personal; he has to share it with the world and that can happen only if he reproduces.
Shakespeare begins his sonnets by introducing four of his most important themes – immortality, time, procreation, and selfishness – which are interrelated in this first sonnet both thematically and through the use of images associated with business or commerce (the word ‘increase’ is a clear representation of this).
The sonnet’s first four lines relate to all of these important themes. Individually, each of these four lines addresses a separate issue. Line 1 is concerned with procreation, especially in the phrase “we desire to increase”; line 2 hints at immortality in the phrase “might never die”; line 3 presents the theme of time’s unceasing progress; and line 4 combines all three concerns: A “tender heir” represents the mortality for parents, who will grow old and die. According to the sonnet, the poet’s expression of procreation ensures that our continuation will be carried forward by our children. And if we do not have children, our existence will be extinguished with our death.
But, the scenario the poet creates in the next few lines (lines 5–12) apparently has been rejected by the young man, whom the poet addresses as “thou”. Interested only in his own selfish desires, the youth is the embodiment of narcissism, destructively excessive love of oneself. The poet makes it clear that the youth’s self-love is harmful and unrealistic, not only for himself but for the entire world. Because the young man is not willing to share himself with the world by having a child to carry on his beauty, he creates “a famine where abundance lies” and thus is unnecessarily hurting himself viciously. The “bud” in line 11 recalls the “rose” from line 2 – the rose as an image of perfection underscores the immaturity of the young man, who is only a bud, still imperfect because he has not fully bloomed.
The final couplet – the last two lines – reinforces the injustice of the youth’s not sharing his beauty with the world. The “famine” that he creates for himself is communicated through the phrase “To eat the world’s due,” as though the youth has the responsibility and the world has the right to expect the young man to father a child. Throughout the sonnet, Shakespeare draws his imagery from everyday life and the world around him. In this sonnet, he writes of love in terms of commercial purpose, the practice of charging exorbitant interest on money lent. For example, in the first line, which reads, “From fairest creatures we desire increase,””increase” means not only nature’s gain through procreation but also commercial profit, an idea linked to another trade term, “contracted,” in line 5. In line 12, by using the now-antiquated term “niggarding,” which means hoarding, the poet implies that the youth, instead of marrying a woman and having children, is selfishly wasting his love all for himself.
The first sonnet introduces many of the themes that defines the sequence: beauty, the passage of human life in time, the ideas of virtue and wasteful self-consumption (“thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes”), and the love of the poet for the young man, which causes him to elevate the young man above the whole world, and to consider his procreation a form of “pity” for the rest of the earth. Sonnet 1opens not only the entire sequence of sonnets, a group comprising the first seventeen sonnets, often called the “procreation” sonnets because they each urge the young man to bear children as an act of rebelliousness against time.
The logical structure of Sonnet 1 is relatively simple – the first quatrain states the moral premise, that beauty should strive to propagate itself; the second quatrain accuses the young man of violating that moral premise, by wasting his beauty on himself alone; the third quatrain gives him an urgent reason to change his ways and obey the moral premise because otherwise his beauty will wither and disappear; and the couplet summarizes the argument with a new exhortation to “pity the world” and father a child. Some of the metaphoric images in the poem, however, are quite complex. The image of the young man contracted to his own bright eyes, feeding his “light’s flame” with “self-substantial fuel,” for instance, is an extremely intricate image of self-absorption.
Traditionally, rose is a symbol of love and beauty. By employing rose as his first flower imagery at the very beginning of his sonnets, Shakespeare puts rose in a prominent position. From the rose imagery in the first sonnet, we get some hints about the theme of the 154 sonnets: love and beauty.
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory;
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
In the first place, superficially rose symbolizes the pure beauty of his fair friend, the beauty of his youth and vitality. But beauty is but a blossom and beauty fades like a flower. In this sense, rose is both the symbol of beauty and the metaphor of fast-fading beauty. In order to prevent rose from withering and overcome the transience of human life, that is to say, not to allow
“within thine own bud buriest thy content” (Shakespeare, 1999, p. 1),
Shakespeare’s speaker compares the fair youth to a candle and a rose:
…he is a candle contracted to the flame of his bright eyes; or he is a rose refusing to unfold his bud. The first symbolizes the refusal of the spirit; the second, the refusal of the flesh. The first creates famine; the second, waste. (Vendler, 1997, p. 48)
In order to avoid famine and waste, Shakespeare’s speaker persuades his fair friend not to bury his potential fatherhood before the tender rosebud is open. Letting his rose open means reproducing himself by getting married. As a result, “his tender heir” might keep hope alive and keep him alive, too. “Leaving thee living in posterity”. Producing young can keep beauty’s rose immortal, although all men are mortal. His immortality and his happiness exist in marriage and his offspring. “Or ten times happier be it ten for one”. Ten children can bring him happiness 10 times. The willingness of passing on his physical as well as spiritual beauty to the next generation fully reveals the virtues of reproduction.
Reproduction also represents kindness. As the saying goes, kindness comes of will. If the youth is willing to get married, that is to say, to be kind to himself:
“as thy presence is, gracious and kind,/ Or to thyself, at least kind-hearted prove”.
His beauty can survive the ravages of time:
“That beauty still may live in thine or thee”
Being kind to himself also means being kind to others:
“And many maiden gardens, yet unset,/ With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers”
Many unplanted virgin lands of the maidens await his seeds. A virgin bride awaits her bridegroom. To beget children, or to become the father of children, is a virtuous act.
In the second place, on a deep level, the rose imagery in Sonnet 1 is mysterious and has the implied meaning of female reproductive organ. Implicitly, rose has the implication of reproductive system of beauty.
Explicitly, “Shakespeare’s insistence on the eye as the chief sexual organ is everywhere present in the Sonnets, as in the plays” (Vendler, 1997, p. 15). In the first sonnet, the rose imagery and eye imagery appear together.
As far as rose is concerned, although the first 17 sonnets are addressed to an aristocratic youth with feminine characteristics, rose has a strong connection with women. Rose can also be interpreted from the perspective of women. We all know that “Rose” is a general name for women. People often associate “rose” with feminine beauty. In the first two lines of the opening quatrain, Shakespeare states: “From fairest creatures we desire increase,/ That thereby beauty’s rose might never die”(Shakespeare, 1999, p.1). From the context, to be more specific, “beauty’s rose” can be boldly interpreted as “womb”—the internal organ of women where babies develop. Moreover, in this line, “die” refers to “beauty’s death” which has a close connection with tomb.
Throughout the 154 sonnets, “womb” is used together with the word “tomb” several times. Logically, womb and tomb form a sharp contrast. In Sonnet 3, Shakespeare provides a plain explanation for the relationship between them: “Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother./ For where is she so fair whose uneared womb/ Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?/ Or who is he so fond will be the tomb/ Of his self-love to stop posterity? “Womb” stands for life, while “tomb” for death. The speaker warns his friend that if he ignores the untilled womb of a woman and leaves her unblessed with motherhood by refusing to play the part of husband, his self-love will be bound to lead his sweet self to tomb. “Husbandry” here means farming, especially when done carefully and well. Shakespeare skillfully uses the phonetic puns “husbandry” and “husband” to persuade his fair friend to get married and cleverly reproduce a child. Without a “tender heir” (Sonnet 1) or a “fair child” (Sonnet 2), he will “make worms thine heir” (Shakespeare, 1999, p. 6).
The new worm imagery appears among the womb and tomb imagery. The image of worm provides a moving and somewhat horrible scene among the still picture presented by the images of womb and tomb. In Sonnet 146, the speaker also expresses the same meaning: “Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,/ Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?” Shakespeare’s speaker warns his fair friend that: “Thy unused beauty must be tombed with thee,/ Which, used, lives th’ executor to be” (Shakespeare, 1999, p. 4). Besides, the symbolic meanings of life and death, Shakespeare also enjoys combining the pair images of womb and tomb together in a new context: “Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?” (Shakespeare, 1999, p. 86). His ripe thoughts (his verses) that remain unborn in the womb are like lives that remain dead in tomb. Such a metaphor with the same rhyme expresses the subtle meanings in a very impressive way. To sum up, the womb and tomb imagery which continuously runs through the 154 sonnets casts a new light over the beauty’s rose.