Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Does this sonnet sound familiar?

When I in dreams behold thy fairest shade
Whose shade in dreams doth wake the sleeping morn
The daytime shadow of my love betray’d
Lends hideous night to dreaming’s faded form
Were painted frowns to gild mere false rebuff
Then shoulds’t my heart be patient as the sands
For nature’s smile is ornament enough
When thy gold lips unloose their drooping bands
As clouds occlude the globe’s enshrouded fears
Which can by no astron’my be assail’d
Thus, thyne appearance tears in atmospheres
No fond perceptions nor no gaze unveils
Disperse the clouds which banish light from thee
For no tears be true, until we truly see

Yes, you're probably thinking, it does sound familiar; it sounds rather like Shakespeare. And yet, there are, to put it mildly, a few problems, notably duff lines that Shakespeare could never have written (including a truly painful last line) and the overriding fact that it doesn't actually make any kind of sense. The music - or a fair simulacrum of it - is there, intermittently, but nothing else. The 'sonnet' reads, indeed, like what it is - a poem generated by a computer algorithm. All you need, apparently, is a dataset of Shakespeare's favourite words and a machine-learning Android app, and Bob - or rather Will's - your uncle. This piece gives a decidedly upbeat account of how it's done, overlooking the obvious fact that such a technique could never generate anything other than, at best, a pastiche. I don't think Shakespeare need fear for for his laurels any time soon.