I grant thou wert not married to my muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o'erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise,
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bett'ring days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised
What strainèd touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized
In true plain words by thy true-telling friend.
And their gross painting might be better used
Where cheeks need blood—in thee it is abused.
I admit that you weren’t married to my poetry, so you’re not doing anything wrong if you read what other writers say about you in the books they dedicate to you—you, the beautiful subject that blesses their books. You are as knowledgeable as you are beautiful, and you see that I’m incapable of praising you sufficiently, so you’re forced to look again for some newer, fresher writer in these days of literary improvements. Go ahead and do so, my love. Yet while these writers have invented whatever elaborate stylistic devices they can borrow from rhetoric, you would be more truthfully represented, since you’re truly beautiful, by the true, plain words of your truth-telling friend. And the overblown praise of these other writers might be more appropriately applied to people who need to be beautified. For you, such rhetorical excess is misused.
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