Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
They That Have Power to Hurt and Will Do None
By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
THEY 1 that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces        5
And husband Nature’s riches from expense: 2
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die,        10
But if that flower with base 3 infection meet,
The basest weed 4 outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lilies that fester 5 smell far worse than weeds.
 
Note 1. They that have power to hurt and will do none.  Sonnet xciv. in Shake-speare’s Sonnettes, 1609. Shakespeare has described his friend (see Sonnet xciii.) as able to show a sweet face while harbouring false thoughts; the subject is enlarged on in the present sonnet. They who can hold their passions in check, who can seem loving, yet keep a cool heart, who can move passions in others, yet are cold and unmoved themselves,—they rightly inherit from heaven large gifts, for they husband them; whereas passionate, intemperate natures squander their endowments; those who can assume this or that semblance as they see reason are the masters and owners of their faces; others have no property in such excellences as they possess, but hold them for the advantage of the prudent, self-contained persons. True, these self-contained persons may seem to lack generosity; but, then, without making voluntary gifts they give inevitably, even as the summer’s flower is sweet to the summer, though it live and die only to itself. Yet, let such an one beware corruption, which makes odious the sweetest flowers. [back]
Note 2. Expense: expenditure, and so loss. [back]
Note 3. Base: Staunton proposes fowl. (Dowden.) [back]
Note 4. The basest weed: Sidney Walker proposes the barest weed. (Dowden.) [back]
Note 5. Lilies that fester, etc.: This line occurs, says Dowden, in King Edward III., act ii. sc. 1 (near the close of the scene). I quote the passage that the reader may see how the line comes into the play, and form an opinion as to whether the play or the sonnet has the right of first ownership in it.
  A spacious field of reasons could I urge
Between his glory, daughter, and thy shame:
That poison shows worst in a golden cup;
Dark night seems darker by the lightning flash;
Lilies, that fester, smell far worse than weeds;
And every glory that inclines to sin,
The same is treble by the opposite.
It should be remembered that several critics assign to Shakespeare a portion of this play, which was first printed in 1596. The lines which have been quoted occur in a scene ascribed to Shakespeare. [back]
 
 
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