From whence did the violet get its smell? The lily its whiteness? The marjoram its fuzzy hair? The rose its hue? The Bard of England’s immortal verse outlines the origins of beauty in each of these flowers.
by William Shakespeare
The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love’s breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love’s veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand,
And buds of marjoram had stol’n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair;
A third, nor red nor white, had stol’n of both
And to his robbery had annex’d thy breath;
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker eat him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet or colour it had stol’n from thee.
Digging into this poem, this is what I have to come to learn from the more dense passages: The lover went into a field of flowers, to accuse the violet of dying its color in the beloved’s blood; the roses watched the scolding in fear; one red with shame; another white with despair; a third rose, steals of both hues and also the beloved’s breath; as vengeance for this, when he reaches full bloom, a caterpillar eats him up to death.
What Shakespeare does in “Sonnet 99” is truly masterful. He says so much, in so few words, and so beautifully. This poem serves as further validation to why he is called the Bard. His words have lasted ages and have ingrained themselves into our speech.
If you have ever seen better days, went on a wild goose chase, declared good riddance, demanded fair play, had to break the ice, or kill with kindness, you were directly quoting Shakespeare.
“His words have tangled around our own” –Kate Tempest, “My Shakespeare”
He’s our Shakespeare.