Day 221: Words, Words, Words – from “Romeo and Juliet” (c. 1595)

I’ve been doing a lot of work (and a lot of research) on Romeo and Juliet the past couple of weeks, and throughout the process, I’ve often felt like I’ve been rediscovering the magic of many of the scenes and speeches in the play.

In the excerpt below, the dialogue from the moment that Romeo and Juliet first meet to the moment they share their first kiss forms a sonnet: fourteen lines, composed primarily of iambic pentameter (with occasional exceptions/variations, like almost all of Shakespeare’s verse), with a clearly defined rhyme scheme.

Being a word nerd, I love that Shakespeare used the same basic structure for the beginning of the first conversation between his immortal star-cross’d lovers as he did for his famous series of 154 love poems.


If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.


Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

Which mannerly devotion shows in this;

For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,

And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.


Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?


Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.


O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;

They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.


Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.


Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

—William Shakespeare