Free Range Poetry
16Nov/19

Nihilism Comes to the Bard:
A Sestina, by William Shakespeare

Now will I charge you in the band of truth, 1
as doubtful thoughts and rash-embraced despair 2
can bide the beating of so strong a passion 3
that wear this world out to the ending doom. 4
To death, or to a vow of single life - 5
Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust. 6

Destroy our friends and, after, weep their dust - 7
but for the certain knowledge of that truth, 8
to grunt and sweat under a weary life, 9
surfeits, imposthumes, grief and damned despair, 10
but bear it out, even to the edge of doom, 11
allaying both their fury and my passion. 12

And those that mingle reason with their passion, 13
begrimed with sweat and smeared all with dust; 14
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom? 15
That is no slander, sir, which is a truth: 16
Hope gives not such warrant as despair… 17
We pay sour earnest for a sweeter life. 18

So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life, 19
and with such sober and unnoted passion 20
here overcome, as one full of despair - 21
all follow this, and come to dust. 22
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth, 23
as we draw the lottery of our doom. 24

From the creation to the general doom 25
that makes calamity of so long a life, 26
this is the show and seal of nature's truth: 27
inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every passion 28
no worthier than the dust! 29
Our hap is loss, our hope but sad despair. 30

Two loves I have, of comfort and despair, 31
firm and irrevocable is my doom, 32
as when a whirlwind takes the summer dust. 33
O, that I could but call these dead to life! 34
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, 35
dare no man answer in a case of truth? 36

And my ending is despair! 37 This hateful life! 38
It may stand till the perpetual doom, 39 into a towering passion, 40
until this day, to scour it in the dust. 41 I speak no more than truth. 42

  1. Alls Well That Ends Well, AW IV.ii.56
  2. The Merchant of Venice, MV III.ii.109
  3. Twelfth Night, TN II.iv.93
  4. Sonnets, Sonn.55.12
  5. A Midsummer Nights Dream, MND I.i.121
  6. Titus Andronicus, Tit V.ii.185
  7. Alls Well That Ends Well, AW V.iii.64
  8. King John, KJ I.i.61
  9. Hamlet, Ham III.i.77
  10. Venus and Adonis, Ven.743
  11. Sonnets, Sonn.116.12
  12. The Tempest, Tem I.ii.393
  13. King Lear, KL II.iv.229
  14. The Rape of Lucrece, Luc.1381
  15. Macbeth, Mac IV.i.116
  16. Romeo and Juliet, RJ IV.i.33
  17. Henry IV Part 2, 2H4 I.iii.40
  18. King Edward III, E3 IV.iv.3
  19. Sonnets, Sonn.74.9
  20. Timon of Athens, Tim III.v.21
  21. Venus and Adonis, Ven.955
  22. Cymbeline, Cym IV.ii.269
  23. Sonnets, Sonn.37.4
  24. King Edward III, E3 IV.iv.149
  25. The Rape of Lucrece, Luc.924
  26. Hamlet, Ham III.i.69
  27. Alls Well That Ends Well, AW I.iii.127
  28. As You Like It, AYL III.ii.394
  29. Julius Caesar, JC III.i.116.1
  30. Henry VI Part 3, 3H6 II.iii.9
  31. Sonnets, Sonn.144.1
  32. As You Like It, AYL I.iii.81
  33. King Edward III, E3 III.i.167
  34. Henry VI Part 1, 1H6 IV.vii.81
  35. Hamlet, Ham II.ii.549
  36. Henry VI Part 1, 1H6 II.iv.2
  37. The Tempest / Tem epilogue.15
  38. King John / KJ III.i.179.1
  39. The Merry Wives of Windsor / MW V.v.58
  40. Hamlet / Ham V.ii.80.1
  41. Pericles / Per II.ii.54
  42. Troilus and Cressida / TC I.i.65
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