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To Thine Own Self Be True -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem sent in by Seema Ramanarayanan

The title has been given by one of my old English textbooks. Guess that's not
the title used anyplace else since I had a hard time finding the poem on the
web. It's basically Polonius' advice to his son Laertes in "Hamlet". [It seemed
to me more appropriate than our usual convention of using the first line of the
excerpt as the title, so I retained it - martin]
(Poem #1204) To Thine Own Self Be True
 Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
 The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
 And you are stay'd for.
 There ... my blessing with thee!
 And these few precepts in thy memory
 Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
 Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
 Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
 Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
 Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
 But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
 Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg’d comrade.  Beware
 Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
 Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
 Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
 Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
 Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
 But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
 For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
 And they in France of the best rank and station
 Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
 Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
 For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
 And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
 This above all: to thine own self be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!
-- William Shakespeare
Well, not sure I think it's the best advice anyone ever got but when I reread
the poem all these years later, I realised its a whole list of platitudes :).
Still sounds like mighty grand advice, doesnt it?

p.s. I dont think I need to add any biographical information for this one!

Seema

[Martin adds]

The phrases "to thine own self be true" and "neither a borrower nor a lender
be" have (deservedly) made their way into the language.

Another famous set of precepts cast into poetic form is Kipling's "If", Poem
#271

And in a more humorous vein, Gilbert's "Things are seldom what they seem" duet
from "HMS Pinafore" is a magnificent send up of the genre, including the
immortal line
  Though I'm anything but clever
  I could talk like that forever
    -- [broken link] http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/pinafore/web_opera/pn14.html

martin

59 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

mgtownsend said...

The most brilliant rendering of Polonius' speech I have ever seen was by Hume Cronin, playing against Richard Burton's Hamlet in the mid 60's. Cronin brought out every ounce of doddery condescension; he was hilarious in a way that snuck up on you. All the funnier because you weren't expecting it. Thank you for surfacing a delightful memory. Of all of WS's tragedies, Hamlet has the most intentional humor. Much needed in the current pathos of the world.

Martin Townsend
Cincinnati, OH

A MARTIN said...

None of it was a platitude when Shakespeare wrote it!!

Tony Martin

Martin DeMello said...

"After all, all he did was string together a lot of old, well-known
quotations." -- Henry Louis Mencken on Shakespeare

Rbrt521 said...

My good friend, Miss Mary, read this today, and as always, enjoyed the
robustness of To thine Own Self be True........RAP, MBH

Patricia said...

This is the best piece of advice I ever had, from me Grandmother,who brought me up in my most formative years, I was an early reader , I also love John Donne's "no man is an island...."

Wayne Champion said...

Thanks for having it available to read. I have been looking for the
source of the statement: "To thine own self be true."
When I finished reading the poem in it's entirety, it sounds as if
Shakespear was requoting the first 14 verses of the 11th Proverb in the
Holy Scriptures.

Carmen Vazquez said...

while it might be true that it seems as if Shakespeare put all kinds of sayings, proverbs, advice and whatnot together, i don't think anyone could have done it as gracefully as he did. i for sure could not have done it, so ask yourself the same question.

Dan Hooker said...

Such a great piece of truth and advice to anyone in just about any
situation, and applicable to just about any human endeavor. How much
more meaningful can a theme be?

Dan Hooker
California

Thomas Adams said...

The older I get, the more I realize the importance of being honest with
myself and the more I notice people who aren't. I also enjoyed the line
about listening more and speaking less.something I've heard in different
ways over the years. The whole poem is proof positive that the truth
remains the truth, no matter where or when it is spoken.

Thomas Adams

Mmartinmarie said...

This are sounds words of advise. Many of them based on the book of
Judea/Christian proverbs.

Marie Martin
Hot Springs, AR

Jonh1Har said...

I have lived by this quote and Kiplings "If". What else does one need?
-John H.

Karl Sieg said...

Imagine yourself, as Dad, Polonius. You have accompanied your 18 year old
son to the dock as he is about to board a ship to go to another country, and
see the world, to seek his fortune.
You are making small talk with some other men as your son Laertes is too
with some other young men, laughing and joking, oblivious to you, Dad, and
the preparations being made by others for him.
Suddenly you notice that the hands on deck are standing there, waiting for
your son to board, so they can get going.

You yell over to your son:
"Yet here, Laertes! Aboard! Aboard! For shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, and thou art stayed for (people
are waiting for you!)"

And then, as the reality of your son leaving is hitting home, you are struck
with pain and sorrow.
Keeping your tears from falling, you feel that you must impart some final
advice that you ask Laertes to remember:
"There ... my blessing with thee! And these few precepts in thy memory look
thou character."

I know of no more profound and meaningful words from father to son (or
daughter).

I printed out the passage, framed it, and gave it to my daughter for a
wedding gift.

When our pastor burned out, and submitted his resignation from the church he
started and grew from 7 families to over 10,000 people in 17 years, I sent
him the last stanza with our love and best wishes: "And this above all: to
thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst
not then be false to any man."

Wsamuel842 said...

Thank you William for your kind words of wisdom. Beautine, to thine own self
be true. Love ()

JFFox77777 said...

Fifty years ago, our Junior High School Science Teacher made us each buy a
pencil, inscribed with:

"To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man."

While I never knew it's source, I never forgot the lesson.

--jim

Bernie said...

It looks cool

Emily ()

smith said...

This is so moving and familiar because the TRUTH comes from One Source. That's why it is truth; that's why we can relate; and that's why it become part of us. UNIVERSAL TRUTH is what made Shakespeare and every other amazing writer able to excite people for centuries. Their souls remember the truth, and they are here to remind the rest of us.

Michael Rooney said...

The advice Polonius gave Laertes is as true today as the day it was written.

John Wolfe said...

Arguably, the central problem of the play is that being true to thine ownself is far more problematic than the gasbag courtier Polonius suspects.

We are all not just one self; we're multiple selves.

To be true to his identity as the Prince of Denmark and heir to the throne, Hamlet should kill Polonius.

To be true to his identity as a modern man and educated humanist, he hesitates and agonizes.

He can't be true to one self without being false to the other.

I think that's why these famous lines were put in the mouth of one of an idiot.

John Wolfe said...

One other thing -- the speakers of these lines is a man who pimps out his teenage daughter in order to spy on Hamlet and later dies because he's hiding between an arras in the Queen's bedroom.

I'm not sure that "canst not then be false to any man" is all so operative in his case.

William Robinson said...

I dreamed this message. And all though I knew it was from Shakespeare. I have never read it. I am searching to find out what others think the dream was telling me.

The Hills said...

Thank you so much. My dear mother who knew numerous poems by heart would
recite them to us quite frequently. When we were struggling with having to
make a decision she often quoted this particular poem to urge us in the
direction of making a proper choice.

Pam

Maine

HYPERLINK "

"Faith is like the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark."
Tagore

No virus found in this outgoing message.
Checked by AVG Free Edition.
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9:22 AM

Ted Grant said...

My mom although an uneducated lady of Wales knew these words. And she not
likely knew what they meant. She knew them to be right.

So she taught me these words and brought me up to apply it to my life.

Thanks Mom.

John Brown said...

I received my 6 month coin for sobiety at the
Alcoholics Anonymous meeting last night. On one side
of the coin, the words" To thine own self be true" are
written on it. I was just curious where the phrase
came from. I hope I can keep on being sober, too.

Anonymous said...

My aunt gave me a ring with the quote, "to thine ownself be true." it's a great reminder to me and I wear it everywhere. I really enjoy knowing the history bhind this quote, and it's great importance! I hope I can live up to it, as I wear the ring.

The Watcher said...

Seema should do her homework (rather than publicly declare her ignorance in the matter by saying 'I don't think I need...'). A babbling old man listing platitudes is precisely the kind of contrived wisdom the character, Polonius, speaking this extract uses throughout the play [HAMLET] - furthermore, 'platitudes' is a horribly pretentious word and should never be used as it borders on the vulgar. And by the Mr. John Wolfe, Hamlet has no intention of killing Polonius, rather he is trying to kill CLAUDIUS. And he never 'pimps' out his daughter as you say, this would imply they have sexual intercourse at the instruction of her father, which is majorly incorrect. Have you even seen this play? And by the way, we often see unaimable characters speaking profound widsom and truth in Shakespeare, it is no reason to disrespect the passage. If someone were to read your notes, not only would they be critically wrong about two central aspects but they would also have a general disrespect for Polonius and what he has to say, unlike us real Shakespeare fans, who have found in the babbling old fool a rather likeable and learned albiet self-richeous character. Please refrain from misleading people in these ways when you write your comments. For an admin and a user with so much to say, niether of you have hit your mark.

Anonymous said...

Maybe those who consider these as platitudes should consider as well that somewhere (perhaps ummmm Hamlet maybe ??) is the source or origin for them platitudinous phrases?!?!?!?

Anonymous said...

The Watcher (April 7, 2010) should learn how to spell. For someone who reads Shakespeare, he should know that his richeous is correctly spelled righteous. Albiet is spelled albeit.

anne said...

Enjoyed reading the passage, on this site, happened upon it while searching for the full quote to include in an email to a friend. My mother too quotes the last few lines, and they are beautiful.

The comments above also reflect how different we all are and how much the same... Some loving, some snippy, some thoughtful, and at the end...Reread the last few lines..

fddbooks said...

In preparing a Bible study on the Book of Proverbs, it occurred to me to re-read Polonius's advice. I was pleasantly surprised to see the similarities.

Anonymous said...

Was thiking of sharing this with my Sixth Formers, aged 17 to 19 and came accross the blog... well, we all have our own loads to carry and whatever each one may think, Shakespeare allows us to love Polonius for this dialogue alone!... otherwise, in siding with Hamlet, we have to dislike his bumbling and meddling ways... Mac Chines

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot Seema!
This poem was in our 8th Std, English text book.
I had been searching this poem on the net for quite some time now. Finally found it, thanks to you!


-Kaustubh

Anonymous said...

I have this quote written in Kanji wrapped around my ankle. I wanted it as a reminder every day.

Hugh Chatfield said...

The "Wondering Minstrels," may be a misspelled version of the common expression "Wandering Minstrels," which refers to musicians who travelled from place to place seeking new audience(s).

Hugh Chatfield said...

I have recovered from a severe 1987 brain injury. So people must have hope, please.

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