You can borrow these words — you can text a line or two, or just a phrase— and, of course, you can speak poetry like this.

We got these examples from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. (There’s a lot in the index under ‘summer.’)

‘Speak poetry like this? Who’s going to go and memorise a Shakespeare sonnet?’

Listen, this is ‘multimedia-multidigital 2014’ we’re living in. You don’t have to memorise. Just photocopy and read. Or call it up online and print it out. Or read it off your smartphone. Especially if you have a large-screen Samsung — and the rumour — call it a certainty — is that there will be a large-screen iPhone 6 from Apple this fall, announced in September, with an availability date to follow. (Although summer will be over by then, of course.)

Anyhow — the glory of communicating in summer 2014 is, you just face her (or him — you know, this stuff can be twice as sweet when you’re smiling at maybe a shy new partner to be) — anyhow, the glory of communicating in 2014 is, you just face her or him and pull your smartphone out and start reading.

She — he — will love every minute of it. Take your time. Declaim a little…. Pause on an important word now and then. NOTE: If the phone rings, don’t…. Well…. But you wouldn’t…. Would you?

And we should dispose of another concern. From the point of view of the person doing the reading, a Shakespeare sonnet might seem a little much. But from the point of view of the person your affections are being ‘aimed at’ (if we can slip into the common parlance) — this can be a uniquely romantic moment. If it seems to you that your performance is taking forever, it is very likely your every word is pulling your ‘intended’ — to borrow a term — closer… closer… ever closer, one heart to another. Trust us.

Later she, or he, will say to a friend, ‘…And he read the entire sonnet! My knees began to tremble with passion…. I’ve never had anyone read a Shakespeare sonnet to me before!’ Here’s ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’

Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st;

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

— William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, the Sonnets, 18

Note: The last word in Line 10 — ow’st — is ownest, meaning ‘the beauty you own.’ If you read — or recite! — this famous jewel aloud, consider pronouncing the three words in line 10, line 11, and line 12, as you would say them: ‘ownest,’ ‘wanderest,’ and ‘growest.’ Your listener will hear the full word much more clearly, and only a little is lost in the rhythm.

However, in considering this advice, ‘To thine ownself be true.’ — Polonius, in Hamlet, Act I, scene iii. The entire line: ‘To thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’

Polonius gives this advice to his son, Laertes, who is leaving for France, and tells him as well, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’

And should you have need to recommend your ‘ownself’…. Here’s a summertime compliment — a modest one — that should bring a smile in your favour scrawled (‘printed out?’ — very well) on a card accompanying a single rose — keeping it ‘lite’ because it’s summertime —

Shakespeare, King Henry VIII

He was a scholar, and a ripe and good one;

Exceeding wise, fair-spoken, and persuading;’

Lofty and sour to them that lov’d him not;

But, to those men that sought him sweet as summer.

—William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, King Henry VIII, Act IV, scene ii

And how about considering a couple of changes? If that seems right. Make Line 3 ‘Lofty and cool,’ to remove the unpleasant word ‘sour,’ and remove the word ‘men’ from line 4, and add a comma. Then the last two lines will read —

Lofty and cool to them that lov’d him not;

But, to those that sought him, sweet as summer.

Going to add some lines of your own? Careful, now. — Not that the sentences your editors are foolish enough to present here are innocent of nuance or error — but Fowler (see discussion below) wants you to take care when referring to the summer season, as follows:

The two-word term ‘summer time’ is ‘the daylight-saving term.’ In other ‘senses,’ Fowler says, use either ‘summer-time,’ that is, two words and a hyphen — or ‘summertime,’ a single word.

Fowler on hyphens, generally — How should we use hyphens in the digital age? No two dictionaries or style/usage books agree, Fowler says, on a set of ‘rules’ for using hyphens, given the experimental/new writing taking place all around us.

Fowler’s position through the years has been that a hyphen ‘is not an ornament, but an aid to being understood, and should be employed only when it is needed for that purpose.’

For example: ‘The Russians would be well content if they could get all-German talks started on something like their terms.’ The hyphen is essential in ‘all-German.’

And Fowler enjoys quoting Churchill, in a letter written to Sir Edward Marsh: ‘I am in revolt about your hyphens. One must regard the hyphen as a blemish to be avoided wherever possible.’ Fowler and Churchill, of course, both accepted constructions like ‘stick-in-the-mud,’ ‘ne’er-do-well,’ and ‘happy-go-lucky.’

But that is yesterday’s Fowler. Today, a flurry of hyphens is often an exciting ‘decoration,’ and indeed all punctuation is being thrown across print pages and screens in a ‘glory’ of use and overuse of many sizes and colors. And more and more, we are free to choose, even in traditional written forms, how we want to use punctuation. Let us close the circle on this discussion by saying we should use our punctuation with abandon where it may enhance those Sweet Summer Words!


Fowler’s Modern English Usage, of course, was written by Henry W. Fowler, and the First Edition was published in 1926. It had from the start a strong and dedicated following, and in 1956, Sir Ernest Gowers was commissioned by Oxford University Press to revise Fowler. Fowler himself died in 1933.

In updating Fowler, Gowers preserved the style of the charming, suffer-no-fools commentary of the original. Gowers died in 1966, nine months after his revision was published, and a still later revision of Fowler by Robert Burchfield, Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, was published in 1996. Mr. Burchfield died in 2004.

Those who have enjoyed and cheered the Fowler and Gowers entries over the years continue to favour the older Second Edition, although there is no question the newer, more permissive edition is necessary in the digital age. Most own the Burchfield revision of 1996, but keep the older edition handy, and pick it up often. If you need to buy a Fowler’s, consider a new one and an old one — and use the old one for the pleasure of reading about a beautiful language.