On Shakespear 1630
What needs my Shakespear for his honoured Bones,
The labour of an age in piled Stones,
Or that his hallowed reliques should be hid
Under a Star-pointing Pyramid?
This poem is an ode to Shakespeare. The poet says that a great poet which Shakespeare was does not need his remains to be buried under piles of stones. Here piles of stones means a grand tomb. The remains of Shakespeare do not need to be hidden inside a Pyramid which is pointing to the stars.
It is an age old custom to build grand monuments in memory of great people, like scientists, artists, authors, kings, etc. But Milton thinks that builing such a monument in the name of Shakespeare would be a futile exercise.
Dear son of memory, great heir of Fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thy self a live-long Monument.
For whilst to the’shame of slow endeavouring art,
Thy easie numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalued Book.
Those Delphic lines with deep impression took,
Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving
Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving,
And so Sepulchered in such pomp dost lie,
That kings for such a Tomb would wish to die.
A great person, like Shakespeare, does not need a weak witness (like a monument or grand tomb) to commemorate his name. Shakespeare set various examples to inspire many generations of poets to come. Many people must have learnt to write poetry and verses after reading Shakespeare. According to Milton, learning how to write good literature by taking inspiration from Shakespeare is the best ode to the great Bard.
The poet thinks that making pompous tombs, monuments and statues are only meant for kings because many of the kings would wish to die in order to have a grand tombstone in their name.
Understanding the Poem
Question 1: Why does Milton feel it is not necessary to put up a monument in stone for Shakespeare?
Answer: Milton feels that Shakespeare has inspired many poets of future generations. According to Milton, learning how to write good literature by taking inspiration from Shakespeare is the best ode to the great Bard. So, a great person (like Shakespeare) does not need a monument in stone for an ode.
Question 2: What does the ‘weak witness of thy name’ refer to?
Answer: Statues, monuments or tombstones are weak compared to the long lasting impact which Shakespeare left on us. Such structures would ultimately be devoured by time but legacy of Shakespeare will survive forever.
Question 3: How does Milton describe Shakespeare as the source of inspiration for all succeeding generations of poets?
Answer: Shakespeare set various examples to inspire many generations of poets to come. Many people must have learnt to write poetry and verses after reading Shakespeare.
Question 4: What is the best tribute that posterity has bestowed on Shakespeare?
Answer: The best tribute that posterity has bestowed on Shakespeare would be reading and understanding his work. If possible, creating some great work in literature would be the proverbial icing on the cake.