A Lover's Complaint

William Shakespeare 1564 (Stratford-upon-Avon) – 1616 (Stratford-upon-Avon)

FROM off a hill whose concave womb reworded
     A plaintful story from a sistering vale,
     My spirits to attend this double voice accorded,
     And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
     Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale,
     Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain,
     Storming her world with sorrow's wind and rain.

     Upon her head a platted hive of straw,
     Which fortified her visage from the sun,
     Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw
     The carcass of beauty spent and done:
     Time had not scythed all that youth begun,
     Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven's fell rage,
     Some beauty peep'd through lattice of sear'd age.

     Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne,
     Which on it had conceited characters,
     Laundering the silken figures in the brine
     That season'd woe had pelleted in tears,
     And often reading what contents it bears;
     As often shrieking undistinguish'd woe,
     In clamours of all size, both high and low.

     Sometimes her levell'd eyes their carriage ride,
     As they did battery to the spheres intend;
     Sometime diverted their poor balls are tied
     To the orbed earth; sometimes they do extend
     Their view right on; anon their gazes lend
     To every place at once, and, nowhere fix'd,
     The mind and sight distractedly commix'd.

     Her hair, nor loose nor tied in formal plat,
     Proclaim'd in her a careless hand of pride
     For some, untuck'd, descended her sheaved hat,
     Hanging her pale and pined cheek beside;
     Some in her threaden fillet still did bide,
     And true to bondage would not break from thence,
     Though slackly braided in loose negligence.

     A thousand favours from a maund she drew
     Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet,
     Which one by one she in a river threw,
     Upon whose weeping margent she was set;
     Like usury, applying wet to wet,
     Or monarch's hands that let not bounty fall
     Where want cries some, but where excess begs all.

     Of folded schedules had she many a one,
     Which she perused, sigh'd, tore, and gave the flood;
     Crack'd many a ring of posied gold and bone
     Bidding them find their sepulchres in mud;
     Found yet moe letters sadly penn'd in blood,
     With sleided silk feat and affectedly
     Enswathed, and seal'd to curious secrecy.

     These often bathed she in her fluxive eyes,
     And often kiss'd, and often 'gan to tear:
     Cried 'O false blood, thou register of lies,
     What unapproved witness dost thou bear!
     Ink would have seem'd more black and damned here!'
     This said, in top of rage the lines she rents,
     Big discontent so breaking their contents.

     A reverend man that grazed his cattle nigh--
     Sometime a blusterer, that the ruffle knew
     Of court, of city, and had let go by
     The swiftest hours, observed as they flew--
     Towards this afflicted fancy fastly drew,
     And, privileged by age, desires to know
     In brief the grounds and motives of her woe.

     So slides he down upon his grained bat,
     And comely-distant sits he by her side;
     When he again desires her, being sat,
     Her grievance with his hearing to divide:
     If that from him there may be aught applied
     Which may her suffering ecstasy assuage,
     'Tis promised in the charity of age.

     'Father,' she says, 'though in me you behold
     The injury of many a blasting hour,
     Let it not tell your judgment I am old;
     Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power:
     I might as yet have been a spreading flower,
     Fresh to myself, If I had self-applied
     Love to myself and to no love beside.

     'But, woe is me! too early I attended
     A youthful suit--it was to gain my grace--
     Of one by nature's outwards so commended,
     That maidens' eyes stuck over all his face:
     Love lack'd a dwelling, and made him her place;
     And when in his fair parts she did abide,
     She was new lodged and newly deified.

     'His browny locks did hang in crooked curls;
     And every light occasion of the wind
     Upon his lips their silken parcels hurls.
     What's sweet to do, to do will aptly find:
     Each eye that saw him did enchant the mind,
     For on his visage was in little drawn
     What largeness thinks in Paradise was sawn.

     'Small show of man was yet upon his chin;
     His phoenix down began but to appear
     Like unshorn velvet on th
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on May 01, 2023

3:42 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,364
Words 722
Stanzas 14
Stanza Lengths 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 3

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was an English playwright, poet, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". more…

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