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Sonnet 11:

[1]       As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

[2]       In one of thine, from that which thou departest;

[3]       And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

[4]       Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.

[5]       Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;

[6]       Without this, folly, age, and cold decay.

[7]       If all were minded so, the times should cease,

[8]       And threescore year would make the world away.

[9]       Let those whom nature hath not made for store,

[10]     Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish;

[11]     Look whom she best endowed she gave the more,

[12]     Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.

[13]     She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby

[14]     Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

Summary

Again, the poem contends for the object of the poem to marry and have children. The variant in this instance is that “nature” has given him something which has a duty to reproduce. It is a good to you and a proper response to what you have received. The poem works by means of balance and order.

First Stanza
[1]       As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st

[2]       In one of thine, from that which thou departest;

[3]       And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st

[4]       Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest.

Even though Shakespeare writes well before Isaac Newton announcement of an “equal and opposite reaction”, he uses that idea of a balance in nature itself. The speed by which you should see to your reproduction is marked by the speed by which you are dying. You should be bringing a child into this world from which you are “departing.” Then as you are leaving youth, you can look back to your child who will be in youth while you are departing youth; he will then be in life, when you depart life. Thus this is a balance in speed and position.

Second Stanza:

[5]       Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;

[6]       Without this, folly, age, and cold decay.

[7]       If all were minded so, the times should cease,

[8]       And threescore year would make the world away.

This stanza is evenly balanced between two pairs of line. First is the distinction between wisdom and folly; between increase and decay: to bear a child is wisdom, beauty and increase. To refuse this is “cold decay”.  If you will think of where he lives and the quality of insulation and clothing, you can understand why cold is a serious negative for Shakespeare. He lived during the “Little Ice Age” (look it up).

Shakespeare then notes the result of such an idea: If everyone thought as you did, then a short number of years, there would be no people left. Anti-natalism and the idea that human beings were someone unnatural and a blight upon the earth was obviously not a thought of Shakespeare.

Third Stanza:

[9]       Let those whom nature hath not made for store,

[10]     Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish;

[11]     Look whom she best endowed she gave the more,

[12]     Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish.

Perhaps there are people whom it would be best if they did not reproduce: “harsh, featureless, rude” should not have children. We will meet these monsters in Shakespeare’s plays.

But as for you: Nature has given to you the best, which entails in you a duty to reproduce that gift. You have a duty to “cherish” that “bounty” which was given to you.

Couplet

[13]     She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby

[14]     Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

“She” is nature: the seal she carved is the beauty of the poem’s object. A seal was used to produce a print: think a seal pressed into wax. The wax reproduces the seal. He was given the seal to print copies of that seal, not to permit that copy to cease with him.

The duty of marrying and having a child is a duty to nature. When a woman is pregnant or when we see a couple pushing their baby in a stroller, there is a sort of affinity which is different than when we are one alone. I noticed it often in my wife’s pregnancy, the way people who speak, the people who wished to see the baby. There is something lovely and joyous in that. It is that affinity which Shakespeare is seeking to awaken in his friend.