When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty's best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have expressed
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.
Other sonnets, such as 55, have looked forward to a time when the youth will live on through the verse of the poet: Sonnet 17 even considers that the record of the youth's outstanding beauty will not be believed by future generations:
Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill'd with your most high deserts?
This sonnet however looks back to a time when knights and ladies led lives of romance and mystery, a time which chroniclers have recorded.for posterity in descriptions which appear to foreshadow in some sense the youth's excelling beauty. The writers of past ages were aware, through some sort of divination, of a beauty that surpassed all others. Yet they did not know the youth, who was not yet born. Their songs therefore were mere prefigurings of his worth and glory, which now is appreciated, even though the present day poets lack the skill to sing of him adequately.
Some echoes of the following sonnet of Samuel Daniel are perhaps discernible here (as indeed in others of the Shakespearean sequence). This sonnet was No 50 in the Sonnets to Delia, published in 1594. (No. 46 in the 1592 edition).
Let others sing of knights and paladins
In aged accents and untimely words,
Paint shadows in imaginary lines,
Which well the worth of their high wits records:
But I must sing of thee and those fair eyes
Authentic shall my verse in time to come;
When yet the unborn shall say, 'Lo, where she lies!
Whose beauty made him speak, that else was dumb!'
These are the arks, the trophies I erect,
That fortify thy name against old age;
And these thy sacred virtues must protect
Against the dark and times consuming rage.
Though th'error of my youth they shall discover,
Suffice they show I lived and was thy lover!
The 1609 Quarto Version
WHen in the Chronicle of waſted time,
I ſee diſcriptions of the faireſt wights,
And beautie making beautifull old rime,
In praiſe of Ladies dead,and louely Knights,
Then in the blazon of ſweet beauties beſt,
Of hand,of foote,of lip,of eye,of brow,
I ſee their antique Pen would haue expreſt,
Euen ſuch a beauty as you maiſter now.
So all their praiſes are but propheſies
Of this our time,all you prefiguring,
And for they look'd but with deuining eyes,
They had not ſtill enough your worth to ſing :
For we which now behold theſe preſent dayes,
Haue eyes to wonder,but lack toungs to praiſe.