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Sonnet 5

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The Penguin Sonnets edited by John Kerrigan, referring to lines 9-14: In Sidney’s Arcadia, Cecropia recommends marriage thus: ‘Have you ever seen a pure rose-water kept in a crystal glass, how fine it looks, how sweet it smells, while that beautiful glass imprisons it? Break the prison and let the water take its own course, doth it not embrace dust and lose all his former sweetness?’

Shakespeare borrows the image but here makes the vial an emblem of increase. It is the child who will preserve his father’s beauty.

rosewater
Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer's distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:
  But flowers distill'd, though they with winter meet,
  Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.

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