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The Sonnets by William Shakespeare - cynara tutoring rosalita (Part the Third)

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Jul 5, 2012, 10:11pm Top

And we re-start with Sonnet 56:

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.
So love be thou; although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad int'rim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
    Else call it winter, which being full of care,
    Makes summer’s welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.
The narrator seems to be fighting against his lover's growing indifference, maybe? He seems to be urging his love to become again as hungry for his affection as he/she used to be, the way we become hungry again tomorrow no matter how much we eat today.

this sad int'rim — is this referring to a separation, maybe? An ocean of absence that separates the two lovers on opposite banks?

Else call it winter — this seems more clearly to be about being apart, and how absence makes the heart grow fonder, as someone who was not our Will once said (or was it our Will? Now I'm doubting myself.)

Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 10:11am Top

Hello, darlings! It's lovely to be back again. I think my sweet love of Will has renewed its force over the past month (not that I don't always love you, Will, but one doesn't make kissy-faces every day, hmmm?)

Your interpretation is spot-on, Rosa. I read it first as Will addressing his own heart, not his lover's. Now that I think about it, I think he's worried about their mutual love. Perhaps after the events of recent sonnets our lovers aren't as keen as they were? I like the homely eating metaphor.

I was taking this sad int'rim to mean this period of desirelessness, but lots of the sonnets have referred to a physical separation, too.

The else call it Winter seems to refer to the same thing as this sad int'rim. I see an additional implication here. While earlier, he was saying "Desire! Why don't you renew every night like hunger does?" Here he's talking about seasonal change again (and Will's always talking about the seasons, often in reference to age). It strikes me that winter is much longer than a night, though it also has a promise of renewal in spring.

Here's what I'm trying to get at: is Will saying "even if our love is in a tired, desireless stage right now, and even if it doesn't refresh every night, maybe this is just winter, a whole season of darkness and chastity, which will be wiped away by the lusty spring."

Jul 6, 2012, 6:29pm Top

I like your thoughts about the meaning of the else call it Winter bits. Hope springs eternal for Will in this one, it seems. Love should renew afresh each day, but if it doesn't, it isn't hopeless; perhaps it's just a lull the way winter provides a lull in nature and will return as does the spring.

This sonnet strikes me as rather more "grown up" than some of the others we've read so far. It seems that Will is struggling with the same thing all lovers face eventually: What do you do when the first rush of lust and giddy feelings fade a bit? Do you settle into a more subdued but still strong love? Or do you crave the rush and look for a new lover instead? Here Will seems to be making his case that "old" love is still worth having. Perhaps he sensed or feared his lover might choose to chase the thrill of new love with someone new.

Jul 7, 2012, 4:46pm Top

Couldn't say it better myself. I like the change of tone here - sometimes it's felt like Will is protesting too much (oh, no, I don't mind that you slept with my mistress! It isn't a big deal at all!) but this feels genuine.

Jul 7, 2012, 5:41pm Top

Yes, agreed! There is no sign of the somewhat pathetic doormat that was narrating some of the earlier poems, especially as you say the love triangle ones. Our Will's done gone and growed up! :)

Jul 9, 2012, 9:54pm Top

On to Sonnet 57, where Will seems to be reverting to previous form:
Being your slave, what should I do but tend
Upon the hours and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend,
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
When you have bid your servant once adieu.
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
    So true a fool is love that in your will,
    Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.
And there we were, figuratively patting Will on the back for breaking out of his hangdog doormat phase with a sonnet that seemed to show a real understanding of mature love. And then I turn the page and read No. 57, and he's back to referring to himself as his lover's slave, and pathetically insisting that he doesn't mind being ignored as long as his love is happy. I mean, really:
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
That's just awful. Perhaps one step up from "you slept with my mistress but it's OK because I love you both."

I don't know, Cynara. You are so good at reading between the lines with Will; do you see any indications that this poem has a touch of anger or satire about it? Or has poor old Will fallen off the maturity wagon?

Jul 10, 2012, 3:36pm Top

Hmm. As always you could read this a few ways. Is the speaker so deeply submissive that he really doesn't mind all the ill-treatment listed here? Are we meant to read this ironically? I find it hard not to, with lines like "nor dare I question with my jealous thought /where you may be, or your affairs suppose." Sure you don't. Perhaps the speaker has been (or thinks he has been) behaving like this, but we're getting a look at the seething anger underneath.

All this "I am your slaaaave!" business wasn't an uncommon trope in sonnets, but usually it's used in a far more affectionate, idolatrous, or sexy way than Will uses it here.

It's worth noting that "naught" could be a double-ententre for a woman's sexual parts. Is the speaker lusting after his mistress, or worrying about what the youth is getting up to while he's sitting around watching the clock?

P.S. I can't believe I missed the possible double meaning of "appetite" in no. 56.

Edited: Jul 12, 2012, 12:03am Top

I like your interpretation of No. 57, Cynara. It appears that Sonnet 58 is a continuation sonnet, so let's see if it sheds any more light on the subject:
That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand th' account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
O let me suffer, being at your beck,
Th' imprisoned absence of your liberty;
And patience tame to sufferance bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
    I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
    Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.
OK, you (and Will) have convinced me. There's no way he's playing this straight. This is just way too much self-flagellation to be believed, especially if we consider the narrator of this sonnet to be the same narrator who held his own writing talent in such high regard in earlier sonnets (Number 17 and Number 18 come immediately to mind). I felt the definite sting of sarcasm in this one, especially that first couplet:
That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure
That kind of made me giggle once I parsed out the word order a bit. "Oh, god forbid I should even think of controlling your highness!"

One of the phrases that I really liked was Th' imprisoned absence of your liberty, but then the next line is a bit more of a puzzle: And patience tame to sufferance bide each check — is he saying that patience must force him to accept every "check" (restraint? refusal?) by the lover of his (the Narrator's) expressions of love.

What do you all think?

Jul 11, 2012, 11:42pm Top

That kind of made me giggle once I parsed out the word order a bit. "Oh, god forbid I should even think of controlling your highness!"
Me, too. Now, mind you, some people do read this "straight", but I can't quite bring myself to do so. More soon!

Jul 12, 2012, 8:57pm Top

I apologize for not having Sonnet 59 ready tonight. I slacked off a bit, thinking we would be continuing to discuss No. 58. (Cynara, I am still eager to hear whatever other thoughts you might have about that one.) But have no fear, I'll be back with a fresh offering tomorrow!

Jul 12, 2012, 10:12pm Top

Apologies for the delay; I may have to return to No. 58 on Sunday. I'm best man at a wedding out of town, and it's keeping me busy. If I can update before then, I will, but right now I have to pack and check where I'm going tomorrow.

Jul 12, 2012, 10:15pm Top

Cynara, no worries! Sounds like you have a fun weekend ahead. Will and I will be here whenever you are able to get back to us. :)

Jul 13, 2012, 3:06am Top

So we a bit like Will with patience bide
C's best man's check - though less tamed, even though
Your charter be, in this thread, near as wide -
With the sweet Rose demured, as cupid's bow
Ties less troubled, unbleeding truer hearts
Wholey, and not, as Will's, bound only in parts.

Jul 13, 2012, 10:37am Top

Yeah, what Alberto said! :)

Jul 15, 2012, 10:08pm Top

Bravo, Alberto!

Jul 15, 2012, 10:27pm Top

The wedding went well. I tried to find a good bit from one of the sonnets for my speech, but "Let me not to the marriage of true minds..." has been done to death, so I went with a bit of Ezra Pound instead.

Now, "O, let me suffer, being at your beck,/ The imprison'd absence of your liberty.

Will is playing with opposites and paradoxes again. I might make this out as "Oh, please let me suffer (since I'm at your beck and call) the imprisonment of your being absent from me, as you are my only real liberty." Yeah, now he's *asking* to be kept waiting. He's also dipping back into the feudal language, making himself a great lord's flunky.

So, again, how do we read this? It's a constant question here, isn't it? Is Will really saying that his lover is a free person, whose comings and goings he can't ask about, let alone control, and that this is just fine with him? Or is the first line to be read with the irony that made us both giggle? I do find the last couplet bitter: " I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,/ Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well."

The difficult syntax aside, I think I like this one. There's something strong and rhythmic in the way Will contrasts freedom and constraint, and despite the doormatty premise, the language sounds assertive and clear.

Jul 16, 2012, 9:42am Top

I'm usually not a big fan of the twisted syntax sonnets, but I do agree with you that this one is a cut above. It's a little odd because he's definitely kowtowing in the actual words but somehow the overall tone comes across as a bit snarky (maybe) but somehow less pathetic than perhaps a literal translation might suggest. I'm not sure how he does that, and maybe I'm just imagining it, but that's how it feels.

So glad the wedding went well! I am not familiar with Ezra Pound; what was the poem that you used in your speech?

Jul 16, 2012, 12:32pm Top

“What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”

Not world's most romantic poet, but it's a good passage.

Jul 16, 2012, 1:55pm Top

Oh, that's lovely! Well done.

Jul 16, 2012, 2:51pm Top


Hey, what do you make of this bit from 58 up there:

to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.

Hinting, perhaps?

Jul 16, 2012, 3:56pm Top

So, excusing his lover from having to justify how he spends his time, have I got that part right?

"Self-doing crime" sounds a bit naughty, doesn't it? Is he having an affair? Or perhaps he's involved with some ... er, self-infatuation?

Edited: Jul 17, 2012, 12:32pm Top

Or saying "hey, it's up to you to pardon yourself for self-doing crime." Whatever that means. Crimes the youth commits? Crimes he commits against himself?

(Edit: most of the analyses I've found support a paraphrase of "you can pardon yourself for whatever crimes you commit." Also, sez Wikipedia, "David Shallwyck asserts that the sonnet "accomplishes the remarkable feat of simultaneously offering an apology and levelling an accusation." Love it.)

Jul 17, 2012, 1:46pm Top

That's a neat trick, indeed, to be able to apologize and accuse in the same sentence! Thank you for pulling that bit out; I had not fully grasped the variety of possible meanings in it.

Jul 17, 2012, 2:19pm Top

I have lost internet service at home, so I'm sneaking some time out of my lunch hour to post our next sonnet, which is No. 59:
If there be nothing new, but that which is
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which, lab'ring for invention, bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
O that recórd could with a backward look,
Ev'n of five hundred courses of the sun,
Show me your image in some ántique book,
Since mind at first in character was done,
That I might see what the old world could say
To this composèd wonder of your frame;
Whether we are mended, or where better they,
Or whether revolution be the same.
    O sure I am the wits of former days
    To subjects worse have giv'n admiring praise.
This sounds like a variation on the idea that there are no new love songs. Apparently, after 58 sonnets (OK, not all of them were songs of praise to his lover), he has finally run out of new ways to say "you're the bee's knees, fair youth!" He wishes he could look up the FY in an old book and see what the ancient poets would have said about such a beautiful fellow. Regardless of whether their praise is better or worse than his own, he's sure that they wrote passionate odes about beauties who could not hold a candle to the object of his affection.

I like this one quite a bit. It's a little more straightforward (although the bit about the second burthen of a former child did make me stumble). This was one of those sonnets that as I started to read it, I didn't really understand where it was going but as I continued reading I started to pick up bits and pieces, and then it all made a lot more sense on the second read-through. It was the third quatrain that really pulled it together for me, and then the final couplet drove it home.

Jul 17, 2012, 10:55pm Top

I like this one for a few reasons.

First, it's a nice change of pace. We've had a bunch of psychologically complicated woe-is-me sonnets, and this one wouldn't be out of place on a birthday card (presuming the birthday boy likes Elizabethan sonnets). Even if it is faintly clunky in places, it's a prettily turned compliment.

Second, have you ever heard of Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence? For anyone who hasn't, it's essentially the idea that from the 20th century on, writers have felt like everything has been said before. How do you write without sounding like someone else? What ideas haven't been done to death? How can you be creative and fresh? I find it funny to see Will S. expressing this same thought, though I don't feel like he's actually that worked up about it.

I love the way Shakespeare uses the word "mended." It makes me think of Puck's farewell at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream: "If we spirits have offended/Think but this and all is mended;/That you have but slumbered here/While these visions did appear." (Punctuation and misquoting is my own)

Jul 18, 2012, 5:17am Top

A short but-in question: what do you both/all think of the 'since mind at first in character was done' line 8? ps. A rather lovely sonnet this one, I think, new to me and surprisingly not as well known as some lesser others. Recalls a bit Anthony and Cleo in thematics, language and tone.

Jul 18, 2012, 1:17pm Top

That is a bit opaque to modern eyes, isn't it? After a bit of reading, I'd say that the literal meaning is "since personalities were described in written words."

For a more nuanced look, check out the definition of "character" on this wonderful website: Shakespeare's Words. YOu may notice that many of our modern meanings for "character" are absent from the list, e.g. "his face has such character." "She's a character!"

Word Nerd Digression
The modern idea that would be most anachronistic here is the idea of "character" being something internal, like their spiritual courage or their sense of right and wrong. A character could be a written description of someone's personality, like a letter of reference ("she shall be dismissed without a character!"), but that's an external view of someone, not something that inheres in him or her.

Jul 18, 2012, 1:48pm Top

Thanks to Alberto for the great question and Cynara for the equally great answer. I have to admit that line baffled me, and now I realize that the things that most deeply puzzle me when I'm reading the sonnets are the words that don't seem to mean what I think they mean. "Character" is a perfect example. I have bookmarked that Shakespeare's Words site for future reference. (Which will not stop me from asking Cyn for help, often!)

Jul 18, 2012, 2:37pm Top

I'd say that having the little word definitions handy is the best thing about an annotated edition. You're having to work harder, Rosa, since yours doesn't have that!

Jul 18, 2012, 2:39pm Top

Oooh, I like no. 60!

Jul 18, 2012, 2:52pm Top

Cynara, I'm getting tempted to splurge and buy an annotated copy for that very reason. Then again, I've got you ... and you're more fun to talk to. :D

You've got me really looking forward to No. 60!

Jul 18, 2012, 3:05pm Top

Hey, we've got almost a hundred to go - if you splurge, at least you'll get some use out of it.

Jul 18, 2012, 3:08pm Top

True! Is there a particular edition that you would recommend?

Jul 18, 2012, 4:03pm Top

Nope! Are any of our beloved lurkers particularly happy with their editions?

Failing that, I'd say go to a bricks-and-mortar store and flip through a few, or look on Amazon where you can get a sense for the layout.

Jul 18, 2012, 8:19pm Top

Well, Cynara gave me a hint back in Message 30 that the next sonnet was a good 'un, and it sure is. Here's Sonnet 60:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow;
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.
    And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
Oh, this one is nice indeed! What a lovely meditation on the way that time inevitably transforms all of us from the fair flush of youth to the infirmity of old age. And time that gave doth now his gift confound is just a great line.

We saw the ocean used as a metaphor for separation (whether physical or emotional) in No. 56, and here the relentlessness of ocean waves are a stand-in for the march of time. And time does march on, swinging its scythe and cutting down the spring growth of youth.

And despite those inevitable ravages of time, our Narrator is steadfast that his love — and these poetic tributes to his love — will live forever. And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand / Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.


Jul 19, 2012, 12:01am Top

Mmm. Anyone else thinking of Dover Beach?

Jul 19, 2012, 9:06am Top

Good question! Be right back.

*furiously Googles Dover Beach*

Jul 19, 2012, 2:23pm Top

OK, I've taken a look at Dover Beach, at least the poem by Matthew Arnold. I hope that's the one you meant, Cynara? I do see some similarities; certainly the use of the ocean waves as a symbol of time's relentless passage is there.

I prefer the sonnet's sentiments myself, but I'm not quite knowledgeable enough to say why, exactly.

Jul 19, 2012, 11:16pm Top

Ja, that's the one. Shakespeare is certainly being more optimistic here. Arnold, that's a heck of a poem to write on your honeymoon, hmm?

I love them both. I love Arnold's language - that "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" is somehow echoed in the words so beautifully, and the ethereal contrast of the moonlit ocean vista with the speaker's near-despair in the final stanza is incredibly poignant. I love that both poems use the sound of the ocean on the pebbles to think about the passage of time and beauty.

On the other hand, I get a much more "death-in-the-garden" feeling from Will's - yes, death is there, but there *is* still a garden, so to speak, in the youth and beauty that does eventually get overcome by age. I like that Will's looking beyond the fair youth for once. He's still implied in the final couplet, but most of the poem feels like it's about us as humans, not us poet-and-beloved.

Jul 20, 2012, 10:12am Top

I agree — one of the things that struck me about the sonnet was that, like many of my favorites, it had a more 'universal' feel to it. That is, it wasn't so explicitly directed at the fair youth, at least until the final couplet, which is so lovely that I forgive him. :)

Jul 20, 2012, 10:21am Top

And, just because it's a slow morning at work so far, here's Sonnet 61:
Is it thy will thy image should keep open
My heavy eyelids to the weary night?
Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,
While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?
Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee
So far from home into my deeds to pry,
To find out shames and idle hours in me,
The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?
O no; thy love, though much, is not so great.
It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,
Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,
To play the watchman ever for thy sake.
    For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhére,
    From me far off, with others all too near.
Oh, I really like this one! Just when we hit a stretch of sonnets that are (to me) a bit oblique, Will redeems himself with a few that even a poetry neophyte like I can understand without being drawn a picture.

What is keeping our dear narrator up at night? Is it the will (heh) of his lover that he be kept sleepless with longing and thoughts of the absent object of his affection? No, it's his own jealousy and worry about who that absent lover is consorting with while he's gone.

It's hard for me to even pick out particular lines, because I really think the whole thing is just lovely. Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat is especially nice, as is the final couplet:
For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhére, / From me far off, with others all too near.
It's not only that he is far away from his love that keeps dear Will awake; it's who is not so far away that keeps him tossing and turning.

Does anyone else like this one as much as I do?

Jul 21, 2012, 9:57pm Top

There is a lovely mood in this one! I don't think I have much to add to your thoughts & precis. The coy bit about "is it your spirit that's visiting me?" reminded me of the 'elemental' sonnets we read earlier, where the speaker is trying to overcome the physical distance between him & his love with his airy, fiery spirit (despite all the heavy water and earth that separates them). I like the ominous note of "with others all too near." Lots of love, but not much trust here.

Jul 22, 2012, 11:48am Top

Yes, there is a definite connection to those earlier sonnets, isn't there? This is one of those cases where I really wish we knew what order the sonnets were written in, or at least the order that Will intended them to be read in.

Lots of love, but not much trust here.
Yes, exactly what I thought, too! It makes me wonder if there are some rocky times ahead for our lovers ...

Jul 22, 2012, 6:34pm Top

I was just thinking about the trust issues between our speaker and the Fair Youth, and I thought of something. I'm not sure it holds up, but I'm going to put it up anyway.

Is it possible that Shakespeare's depiction of the fair youth's personality influenced by sonnet conventions that were created to address women - who were, everyone knew, vain, beautiful, and incapable of being faithful?

I mean, of course Will is being original here. If you look at sonnets with the same themes that Will might have read, you can see that he has no problem warping them, standing them on their heads, or scrapping them when he feels like it. But he is working in the same tradition, and even when the poem feels intensely personal, you can see how the old courtly idea of the beloved as cruel, unreasonable, yet still worthy of devotion is working itself out.

Jul 23, 2012, 8:53am Top

That's an interesting theory. I know I've remarked before that in many of these sonnets, which conventional wisdom says were written to a young man (the one we call Fair Youth), there is no internal confirmation of the gender of the person they are addressed to. Which brings up two questions in my mind:

1. Is it possible they were written for someone (or someones) else entirely, like a woman?

2. Is it possible that if they were written for a young man, that for whatever reason Will was trying to disguise that, and so wrote not only genderless sonnets, but ones that seemed to play up the conventions of sonnets written to/for women?

I'm sure these questions have occurred to smarter people than I am, and so there must be good reasons why the conventional wisdom became what it is, but I can't help wondering in my ignorance.

It really is tiresome of Will not to have left a detailed manuscript answering all these questions for us!

Jul 23, 2012, 12:44pm Top

From what I've read, it's "generally accepted" that this stretch we're in was addressed to the Fair Youth. I'm guessing that was based on the order of the sonnets, and internal evidence in some cases.

And yeah, I think your no. 2 is a good point. As we've pointed out before, the attachment to the fair youth is definitely passionate, if not explicitly sexual, and I'm guessing Will didn't want his man-love sonnets being widely circulated or taken as evidence for sodomy.

Jul 23, 2012, 2:54pm Top

It's 101F here in Iowa today, and I have never been so happy to have a job in and air-conditioned office! To take our minds off the heat, let's look at Sonnet 62:
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopped with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
    'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
    Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
Wow, what a change of heart from a guy who spent a fair percentage of the previous 61 sonnets self-flagellating for not being good enough for his lover!

When I started reading this one for the first time, I was waiting for the kicker because it didn't seem possible that the guy who wrote those sonnets could really be writing one so full of himself (though I guess he's done his fair share of boasting about his writing, but to me that's different than boasting about yourself. I mean, this could have been the inspiration for Carly Simon's "You're So Vain".)

Then I got to the end and realized that all of this "self-love" was just another way of praising his true love, but I'm not exactly sure what he means by 'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise — is he saying that by praising himself he is really praising his lover's good taste in men? Or maybe that anything of himself that is worthy of praise is only due to the influence of his lover?

I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on this one, Cynara!

Edited: Jul 23, 2012, 10:47pm Top

The nub of this one is line 13; "Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise." He says to the beloved, "it's you, 'myself', that I'm praising." That makes more sense of the final line. Since the speaker and his beloved are one, then in praising him, the speaker is praising himself (weatherbeaten as he is) - and since they are one, the age of the speaker is beautified with the youth of his beloved.

Jul 25, 2012, 1:39am Top

My abject apologies for not posting a new sonnet tonight. I completely forgot I had tickets for a concert (Todd Snider and Hayes Carll) and would not be at home. On the plus side, it was a great concert!

Jul 25, 2012, 12:41pm Top

Not atall. I'm glad the show was good!

Jul 25, 2012, 1:46pm Top

I know reading about the weather in other parts of the world can be a bit tedious, and I don't mean to complain quite so much, but seriously: 104F? Sigh. I'm all out of Calgon, so Will — take me away!
Against my love shall be as I am now,
With time’s injurious hand crushed and o'erworn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath traveled on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life.
    His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
    And they shall live, and he in them still green.
Another vow to preserve his lover's beauty with the power of his words. It's quite remarkable to me how Will manages to revisit the same themes in many sonnets, and yet make each of them seem quite unique.

There are some interesting lines here that I wanted highlight:
* When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow — On my first readthrough, I thought we were veering into 'Twilight' territory for a minute! :D
* when his youthful morn / Hath traveled on to age’s steepy night — I don't know why but the phrase 'steepy night' makes me giggle just a little.
* And all those beauties whereof now he’s king / Are vanishing or vanished out of sight — I really like this turn of phrase, especially when you remember our narrator's unease in the previous sonnet about who the fair youth might be consorting with while he's away. I imagined Will thinking, "Sure, those lovelies can keep you warm at night and make you feel great now, but can they write a sonnet about you that will still be read 400 years from now? I think not!"

Edited: Jul 25, 2012, 9:36pm Top

Don't apologize. The weather in Toronto is vile, just vile. I always say (to anyone who will listen) that each person should confine their weather whining to one season of the year, and summer is my whining season. It's hot and smoggy and sticky and sunburning, and I hate it. However, on to more pleasant topics.

I love "steepy night."
Actually, it reminds me strongly of that earlier sonnet where Will compares old age to the evening path of the sun-chariot, slinking down the sky to the horizon.

And all those beauties whereof now he’s king / Are vanishing or vanished out of sight
I know. Sometimes his use of repetition is perfect, incantatory.
I was taking "beauties" to mean all of the youth's physical attributes, not his lovely hangers-on - thanks for suggesting that!

I love the double blackness and greenness of the final lines. In fact, I really like this whole sonnet.

Oh, and about the use of "lover" here - that term wasn't nearly as sexual in Eliz. England as it is now - it might mean simply "someone who likes/admires me a great deal" See the Shakespeare's Words entry for "lover" here. Longtime readers will know that I'm definitely open to a gay reading of the sonnets, but this particular word isn't evidence that Will has finally gotten into the young man's breeches.

(Here's our thunderstorm. Yay!)

Jul 25, 2012, 10:44pm Top

Sounds like we have similar "tastes" in weather, Cyn! I like the idea of everyone getting one season to complain about. I will join you in summer whining, if you don't mind.

I was taking "beauties" to mean all of the youth's physical attributes, not his lovely hangers-on - thanks for suggesting that!
And thank you for suggesting that "beauties" might refer to the youth's own appearance — I like that reading, too. And the black/green contrast in the final couplet is really elegant.

Thanks for that caution about the word "lover". I tend to use it a lot in my comments because I run out of ways to refer to the object of desire, but I always feel a little weird about it. So I'm glad to see that the connotation was not as narrow in Shakespeare's day. It reminds me when I was quite young, and reading books that were too old for me, and coming across references to "making love" in books written in the 19th or early 20th centuries. My immature mind had trouble understanding that phrase as anything other than a description of sex, even though it was clear from the context that it was used to refer to displays of affection far short of actual intercourse.

(And you may well wonder what on earth I was doing reading such books in junior high. All I can say is I grew up in a house with lots of books, and a mom who preferred that I learn enough facts of life on my own to avoid having to have "the talk." :)

Edited: Jul 25, 2012, 11:23pm Top

My immature mind had trouble understanding that phrase as anything other than a description of sex
The very same thing happened to me. I would think "what were they doing in the drawing room? I thought the Victorians were supposed to be prudes!"

Jul 25, 2012, 11:38pm Top

Love it.Great minds think (and thought) alike, Cynara!

Oh, and when you're done with that thunderstorm, can you send it a bit to your southwest? We will take good care of it!

Jul 26, 2012, 1:36am Top

Yeah. Reading all those Victorian novels as a kid resulted in some (retrospectively) amusing confusions.

Sorry, the thunderstorm seems to be heading north - at least locally.

Jul 26, 2012, 10:00am Top

We did get a bit of a thunderstorm finally last night, but it was all show and no go, so to speak. Lots of wind, some thunder and lightning, but less than a quarter of an inch of rain, when we desperately need more more more. Normal rainfall for July is just over 4 inches; so far this month we have received less than a half inch.

If this keeps up, I may have to write a sonnet about it!

Jul 26, 2012, 5:50pm Top

"Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when we're up to (Sonnet) 64?"
When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay,
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
    This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
    But weep to have that which it fears to lose.
Another lament on the ravages of time and inevitable, eventual loss. I really liked this one; it incorporates so many of the elements we've seen Will use often (the relentless movement of the tides, the wearing away of manmade and natural structures), but they add up to something fresh and lovely. Please feel free to chime in with any I might have missed.

Some of my favorite lines, and some questions:
* brass eternal slave to mortal rage — Does this mean that even metal (brass) eventually wears down? Or does brass have a different meaning in this context, perhaps?
* When I have seen the hungry ocean gain / Advantage on the kingdom of the shore, / And the firm soil win of the watery main, — I love the imagery in this description of the ebb and flow of the tides.
* Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate, — I just like the way this line sounds when I read it aloud. The bookends of 'ruin' and 'ruminate' are delightful.
* This thought is as a death, which cannot choose / But weep to have that which it fears to lose. — He is helpless to change how he feels for his love, even though he knows how deeply he will grieve to lose him.

One thing that came to mind as I read this sonnet and the final couplet in particular: Is is conventional wisdom that the narrator is much older than the fair youth? Because if he is, he likely won't live long enough to see his young lover grow old. Of course, that wouldn't stop him from contemplating end-of-life separation, but you'd think at least one of the sonnets would put the shoe of death on the other foot, so to speak. Or perhaps this sonnet is meant to be read in the voice of the fair youth to the narrator; now there's a thought to ponder (no matter how absurd).

Jul 27, 2012, 1:42pm Top

After some reading, I found that "deface" had specific reference to churches; one source suggested that by "brass"... well, I'll just quote it:

""brass eternal" in a church context suggests the ornamental brasses on the floors of churches. Mortal rage would be evidenced by the energy/zeal with which they were detached from their anchorages and then hauled away to be melted down. The anger of the reformers is transient (mortal) in contrast to the "eternal" brass, a suggestion that the brass represents more than mere metallic longevity. Eamon Duffy in his Stripping of the Altars says that brasses were sold in their hundredweights from 1548 onwards. NB the contrast between suggested "natural causes" in the first line and deliberate destruction of a nasty kind in l.4. (G. Blakemore-Evans thinks that the reference is to the wear and tear on the brasses by parishoners' feet. NCS Sonnets p.171.)***

I like the grand way he starts every quatrain with "When I have seen...."

I've thought about that relative-age issue every once in a while, because it certainly sounds as if he thinks he'll be around for the youth's death. Perhaps he's just bewailing the general state of the world, once it's lost him, like he did in the first 17 sonnets?

I don't think it's absurd to picture some of the sonnets in the youth's voice - I remember reading that at least one of the ones we've already read is often read that way.

I agree; this is a really good one!

Jul 27, 2012, 4:24pm Top

Wow, I would never have guessed that 'brasses' had such a specific and interesting meaning! It really does lend a whole new depth to the sonnet, doesn't it?

Perhaps he's just bewailing the general state of the world, once it's lost him, like he did in the first 17 sonnets
It certainly could be that, but somehow that last couplet just seems so heartbreakingly personal to me.

One of the reasons I like to imagine that this one is written from the fair youth's point of view is that it would be one of the few indications we've had that the narrator's intense feelings are truly reciprocated.

Jul 28, 2012, 9:45am Top

That would be nice. I've just realized that I can't help but think of the relationship as ill-starred; so many things seem to be going wrong, and from our position we can't see any reciprocation of the speaker's adoration.

Jul 30, 2012, 8:24pm Top

And we are on to Sonnet 65!
Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o'ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt'ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil or beauty can forbid?
    O none, unless this miracle have might,
    That in black ink my love may still shine bright
Another lovely lament about time's inevitable destruction of youth and beauty. I'm having trouble thinking of something different to say with each of these last ones, but that isn't to say I don't like them. I like them quite a lot, actually. As I've said before, no doubt tiresomely, I am awestruck that Will can revisit the same theme and still come up with fresh things to say.

A few lines I like in this one:
* O how shall summer's honey breath hold out / Against the wrackful siege of batt'ring days — The contrast between the gentleness of 'honey breath' and the harshness of a 'wrackful siege of batt'ring days' is striking.

* time's best jewel from time's chest lie hid — I see my mother's jewelry box, only large enough to hold one of every beautiful thing in the world.

* what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? — I can't help envisioning a middle-aged gent feebly trying to grab Time's foot as it kicks him in the posterior.

* That in black ink my love may still shine bright — It does, Will, it does.

Edited: Jul 31, 2012, 12:04pm Top

I have to say, I really like these last few sonnets. They have that grandeur and poignancy I like so much in Will's writing.

As you've pointed out, this is one of his favourite themes. Also, he's revisiting some of his favourite metaphors; we have legal "action", "seige" warfare, and the ephemeral beauty of nature compared to the equally ephemeral (though very solid-looking) works of man.

what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
I see it as a hand reaching out to grasp a runner's foot (and trip him). I can't decide if this image quite works; there's something faintly awkward about the hand/foot thing, but I like the idea of trying to restrain the swift foot of time.

The final couplet reminds me of sonnet 63, with its black/green paradox; this one has a brightly shining/black ink paradox. To quote: "the blackness of the ink opposed to the shining brightness of the youth described in the sonnets is part of the miracle of his preservation. "

Jul 31, 2012, 12:03pm Top

Sorry for the delay! I'm looking forward to today's sonnet.

Jul 31, 2012, 12:22pm Top

No apologies needed, Cynara. Remember, we are working at a more relaxed pace this time around. :)

Your hand/foot image is much better than mine!

I am about to sneak a peek at No. 66 on my lunch break in half an hour. I'm looking forward to it, too!

Jul 31, 2012, 9:08pm Top

Sonnet 66, ladies and gentlemen!
Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honor shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disablèd,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill.
    Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
    Save that to die, I leave my love alone.
Well! This one turns the melancholy all the way up to 11, as Spinal Tap might say. Our narrator is heartily sick of all the bad things he sees about him in the world. The only thing that keeps him from wishing he was dead is knowing that he would be leaving his lover alone in the bad old world.

The format of this one is so strikingly different than any sonnet we've read so far, I'm curious to learn more about it. Every line after the first two starts with the word 'and' and the whole middle of the poem is a string of complaints, but worded so elegantly as Will will do. Some vivid imagery: purest faith unhappily forsworn, art made tongue-tied by authority, captive good attending captain ill.

Unlike some of the other sonnets, which seemed exuberant in a very youthful way, in this one we can really feel the age of the narrator. Only someone who has experienced a great deal of life could write in such a cynically weary manner, it seems to me.

What does everyone else think?

Edited: Aug 1, 2012, 12:46am Top

I love his experiment with the repetition - it's so bold, and it's so effective. Some of the lines seem startlingly modern - "art made tongue-tied by authority," for example. I can't help but love the verbing of "strumpeted."

I'm looking at the themes of his complaints:

line 2: a deserving person born poor
line 3: a well-dressed waste of space
line 4: a trustworthy person betrayed
line 5: another waste of space, this time covered with unearned glory
line 6: a virtuous person forced to sell him or herself
line 7: a perfect person disgraced
line 8: a strong or direct person overcome by sly, indirect influence
line 9: a skillful or knowledgeable person foiled by those in authority
line 10: a skillful person controlled by folly (like a foolish, pompous academic, or "doctor")
line 11: a truthful person wrongly called stupid or weak-minded
line 12: a good person forced to serve the evil people in power

There's a good deal of subtle complaints about the misuse of authority, which hasn't really surfaced before as a theme. Most of the poems have been so concerned with love that it wouldn't naturally come up. I wouldn't overstress the importance of this, but it's an interesting new thread.

While I don't think one *has* to read this as a series of personifications, I think it works. It's almost like the masques Elizabeth was so fond of, where elaborately costumed people represented abstract ideas like love or virtue.

While this is a miserable one, it's so artfully done that I end up admiring it and enjoying it more than I mourn along with the speaker.

Aug 1, 2012, 12:33pm Top

Sorry to put in the obvious..'For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of dispriz'd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin?'
monosyllabic repetition(The, And) forming a back beat like a thrash, a long contained parenthesis, (Tired with all these-Tired with all these/who-he) then unresolving the beat with a richer emotive rhythm. Sort of the inverse of Dante's most noted Paola and Francesca, (canto 5) where the wind and heat of their love and desire is expressed in a lyric rhythm then, once love (the word) is blown off the end of the lines, interrupted by a repetitive iambic. (On just googling I noticed, a bit to my shock, that it isn't easy to find a English good translation on the point.)
It's a cool use of word and rhythm to reach and contrast two differing systems - (one is doing and social, less information and more in pieces, (And, And, And, or 'Don't, like the U2 tune,) the other more feeling and meaning, more information and whole/ timeless (love))

Aug 1, 2012, 12:54pm Top

Aside, in case anyone is interested, a free TED course on Will's later plays:http://www.extension.harvard.edu/open-learning-initiative/shakespeare-marjorie-garber

Aug 1, 2012, 2:27pm Top

English translators have struggled against our rhyme-poor language for ages, trying to communicate everything going on in Dante. Pity our versifiers and translators!

Aug 1, 2012, 2:36pm Top

>69 AlbertoGiuseppe: Thanks for the tip on the Marjorie Garber course!

Edited: Aug 1, 2012, 3:05pm Top

It's funny, isn't it? It is an enormously mournful sonnet, and yet I also find myself more admiring than sad. Perhaps it's the distance of 400 years ...

Aug 1, 2012, 9:30pm Top

Alberto, a belated thank you to you for your thoughts on the rhyme structure in No. 66. I would not have made the connection to Dante on my own. And that TED course looks quite interesting.

Aug 1, 2012, 9:32pm Top

Here we are at Sonnet 67:
Ah, wherefore with infection should he live,
And with his presence grace impiety,
That sin by him advantage should achieve
And lace itself with his society?
Why should false painting imitate his cheek,
And steal dead seeing of his living hue?
Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
Roses of shadow, since his rose is true?
Why should he live, now nature bankrupt is,
Beggared of blood to blush through lively veins?
For she hath no exchequer now but his,
And, proud of many, lives upon his gains.
    O him she stores, to show what wealth she had
    In days long since, before these last so bad
My true love's beauty and grace is wasted on this ugly mean world. Artists can only imitate his beauty; unworthy people use him to make themselves to seem better than they are. Even nature itself has become a pale shadow of her former self. In fact, nature has to use my true love's beauty to remind her of what she used to have before the world all went pear-shaped.

Have I got that about right? This one was a bit difficult to work through. The lines did not trip smoothly off my tongue when I read aloud, and there's a fair bit of that pretzeled syntax that Will is so fond of. It's interesting, because this one continues the melancholy tone, but now he's lamenting the way the deteriorating world is sullying his love's beauty instead of its effect on his own mortality.

Aug 1, 2012, 9:32pm Top

And belatedly, thanks for chiming in, Joe! We're glad to have you around these parts.

Aug 1, 2012, 9:57pm Top

Yeah, you've got it.

"Why should my love live with infection? Why should he grace impiety with his presence, so sin may achieve advantages and adorn itself with his society? Why should makeup imitate his blush, and steal a dead duplication of his living colour? Why should beauty use makeup to make roses in its cheeks, since my love's blush is true? Why should he live, now that nature is old and bloodless? For now Nature owns only his beauty and life, and although she was once proud of many beauties, now she lives only on his interest. She keeps him safe, to show what wealth she used to have, before these bad men (or years)."

Aug 1, 2012, 9:57pm Top

I love "pear-shaped."

Aug 1, 2012, 10:18pm Top

I love "pear-shaped."
Me, too! I wish I could take credit for it as an original, but I picked it up as slang in some British book or other. Of course, Wikipedia told me more than I ever dreamed it was possible to know about the origins.

Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 7:05pm Top

I have a Friends of the Library board meeting tonight (how does the 1st Thursday of the month come around so quickly?) but I just have time to post my thoughts on Sonnet 68:
Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flow'rs do now,
Before these bastard signs of fair were born,
Or durst inhabit on a living brow;
Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchers, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head;
Ere beauty’s dead fleece made another gay.
In him those holy ántique hours are seen,
Without all ornament, itself and true,
Making no summer of another’s green,
Robbing no old to dress his beauty new;
    And him as for a map doth nature store,
    To show false art what beauty was of yore
Another ode to beauty, but as usual Will finds an unusual angle. He is extolling his lover's natural beauty, in stark contrast to the artificiality of the beauties of his contemporaries. An artificial beauty that relied on wigs made of corpses' hair, which probably sounds more creepy than it is. Maybe.

This sonnet brought up all kinds of questions in my mind, all related to the history of cosmetics and what some of the common beauty "tricks" were in Will's day. And was the idea of using such artificial aids to beauty so new that Will's complaints would have been well-received, or was he a bit old-fashioned himself for the time?

More specific to the poem, i really like the line Making no summer of another's green as well as the final couplet. That final couplet, actually, seems to call back to No. 67, where he chided nature for her debased state, and urged her to look at his love to see what true natural beauty really is.

Aug 3, 2012, 12:15am Top

Both this poem & the last one slam cosmetics, and this one really has it in for wigs. One of the intriguing questions about this sonnet is whether or not it would have put Good Queen Bess' hairpiece in a curl. Due to some similarity with the language from The Merchant of Venice, experts guess that Elizabeth was still alive when this sonnet was written, and she was famous for her heavy makeup and assortment of wigs.

It wasn't published until after she was dead, but the sonnets were circulated privately for years before they went into print. Perhaps this was considered indirect enough? Maybe Will wasn't considered important enough to worry about this kind of thing?

It was also drawn to my attention that these last two poems have addressed the youth as "he", not as "you".

Aug 3, 2012, 9:42am Top

That's an interesting observation about the last two sonnets referring to the fair youth in the third person instead of addressing him directly. What are the theories behind that (I'm sure there must be at least one).

Aug 3, 2012, 12:21pm Top

The one I read suggested that they were from the point of view of a different speaker - a more cynical one than our usual. The author freely admitted that it was unsupported, but he thought it solved certain problems. There are very likely more ideas out there.

Aug 6, 2012, 12:38am Top

A friend of mine sent me a couple of links to celebrities reading sonnets, and I decided to start a little database of good (or at least okay) links to such things. I've come across some good ones to sonnets we've already covered (and, unfortunately, none that cover the spot we're in now). I think I'll post a few links, in case anyone wants some nostalgia for May.

Aug 6, 2012, 12:49am Top

In reverse order, then.

No. 29 is often recorded; I'm quite happy, because it's a favourite of mine, too. That's the one that begins "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes/ I all alone beweep my outcast state."

First, Patrick Stewart gives a master class; it's classic, beautiful, and utterly immediate and emotional. The slow pullout to the iPad (it's an ad for a new app that I covet) is a bit annoying, but if you want you can close your eyes when the camera starts moving.

Then, Matthew Macfadyen (an actor I didn't know before this) gives us a totally different but equally affecting reading. It's wonderful, don't miss it.

Patrick Stewart
Matthew Macfayden

Edited: Aug 6, 2012, 1:00am Top

Also, there's an audio track (set to some images for the YouTube video) by David Tennant (Doctor Who, Harry Potter, etc.). He includes many of the procreation sonnets, weirdly enough - and then the last sonnet, #154.

Here are the ones he reads (not in order of appearance)

2, "When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,"
7, "Lo! in the orient when the gracious light"
9, "Is it for fear to wet a widow's eye,"
11, "As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st,"
14, "Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;"
17, "Who will believe my verse in time to come,"
18, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

AND, #154.

Be warned; if you're following along with us and don't want the final sonnet "spoiled," make sure you bail out before you hit the last minute of the video.

David Tennant and his adorable Scottish burr. There, I said it. Do you want to judge me?

Actually, I'm not familiar with him or his work, but he does read a lovely sonnet.

Aug 6, 2012, 9:40am Top

Thanks for those, Cynara! I'll have to check them out when I get home tonight.

I believe Matthew Macfadyen was in the BBC series "Spooks", which I am currently watching on Netflix streaming. And I've seen that iPad app advertised elsewhere, and I too covet it tremendously.

Aug 6, 2012, 5:42pm Top

Uh-oh! The honeymoon's over in Will's World. Check out Sonnet 69:
Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend.
All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due,
Utt'ring bare truth, ev'n so as foes commend.
Thy outward thus with outward praise is crowned;
But those same tongues that give thee so thine own
In other accents do this praise confound
By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that in guess they measure by thy deeds;
Then, churls, their thoughts (although their eyes were kind)
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds;
    But why thy odor matcheth not thy show,
    The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.
There's no debate, apparently, about the fair youth's beauty (and not to derail the conversation before it's started, but if I had a dollar for every time I've mistyped 'fairy outh' ...). He's a gorgeous flower in the garden of life. At least his outward appearance is. But when people consider through his words and actions what lies within his heart and mind, they no longer find him quite so fine. Or, as Will inimitably puts it, To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds.

The final couplet answers the question of how such a beautiful young man could act so badly: He's keeping company with dirty rotten scoundrels. The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.

I read this one as some words of warning (or at least advice) to the youth: Be careful who you associate with, because they will drag you down to their level. Of course, I can't help but wonder if it's these "weeds" that have been keeping the youth away from the narrator through this last run of sonnets. Or perhaps it's the narrator's former mistress, come back to cause trouble again?

Edited: Aug 6, 2012, 10:07pm Top

Well, it seems like Will is finally getting in touch with his anger. I think this is by far the most openly condemning sonnet he's given us so far, and it's no-one's choice for a wedding reading.

Still, "by attributing the churlish thoughts of denigrating the youth's moral perfection to the perfidy of churlish men, the poet neatly avoids the reproach of being the one who casts the first stone."

It does ring some familiar notes, though - internal vs. external, people as flowers, and, of course, the youth's extraordinary beauty, which here is turned into an outward shell which hides uncertain contents.

Also, a vocabulary note: "the word common in its modern sense of low-class, vulgar, only dates from the 19th century. Its usual meaning for Shakespeare is 'public, widespread', but often also with pejorative associations of baseness ... One should also remember that the adjective was applied to prostitutes, as in 'common customer' AWW.V.3.284, and 'common house', meaning a brothel."

I like the idea that the "weeds" are the youth's low companions who, perhaps, the speaker fears: "from me far off, with others all too near."

{edited for apostraphe fail}

Aug 6, 2012, 9:55pm Top

"No one's choice for a wedding reading" — ha! Yes, I'd say Will is veering closer to 'aggressive' on the passive-agressive continuum with this one. Although you make a nice point that he still chooses to filter his criticism through others ("I'm not saying I think you are hanging out with lowlifes; I'm just saying that's what other people think.")

My memory is extremely imperfect, but I'm thinking this might be the first sonnet that mentions the youth's beauty that doesn't see it as an unmitigated good, so to speak. Will seems to be saying that a beautiful outside hiding an ugly inside is not very beautiful at all.

And, in my ongoing quest to tie Will to country-music songwriting, I can only guess that he would not be a fan of Garth Brooks' "I've Got Friends in Low Places."

Aug 6, 2012, 10:08pm Top

Has that been your ongoing quest? If not, it should be.

Edited: Aug 6, 2012, 10:46pm Top


Well, I did point that Sonnet 31 had a certain country-music quality to it:
I do like the last line a lot: And thou, all they, hast all the all of me. Methinks Will could have been a Nashville country-music star in another life.

And then, of course, there was Sonnet 40, which inspired me to write:
And oh! those poor helpless darling men, powerless in the grip of a woman's evil passion! When a woman woos, what woman's son / will sourly leave her till he have prevailed? Of course we can't expect him to say, "I'm sorry but you are my dearest friend's mistress and I don't feel it proper to 'get busy' with you, milady." 'Cause after all he's just a man, as Tammy Wynette once sang. I said earlier I thought Will would have made a crackerjack country songwriter.

Aug 7, 2012, 5:21pm Top

WARNING: Reading Sonnet 70 (below) immediately after reading Sonnet 69 could cause mental whiplash:
That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,
For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair;
The ornament of beauty is suspéct,
A crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air.
So thou be good, slander doth but approve
Thy worth the greater, being wooed of time;
For canker vice the sweetest buds doth love,
And thou present’st a pure unstainèd prime.
Thou hast passed by the ambush of young days,
Either not assailed, or victor being charged;
Yet this thy praise cannot be so thy praise,
To tie up envy evermore enlarged.
    If some suspéct of ill masked not thy show,
    Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts shouldst owe.
I couldn't help laughing when I read this one because the sentiment is so contrary to what we read in No. 69. Here the fair youth comes in for unstinting and unqualified praise for his beauty. The narrator even goes so far as to say that anyone who criticizes him (such as, oh I don't know, HIMSELF maybe?!) is doing so simply out of jealousy of the youth's pure unstainèd prime.

I like the line a crow that flies in heaven's sweetest air, even though I'm not quite sure what it means. Is the youth the sweet air, and jealousy is the crow that mars his pure beauty?

Because we are reading these back-to-back-to-back, one a day more or less, I have to keep reminding myself that they were not written that way. Otherwise, we would have to assume that poor Will has a real split personality! "Today I love him, he's perfect. No, now he's beautiful but corrupt. No, now he's pure and unspoiled perfection. No, now ..."

Aug 8, 2012, 12:02am Top

Here I am, nose to grouchy nose with insomnia, so I may as well do something moderately useful like write about Shakespeare.

This rapid change of mood is the kind of thing that makes me wish we knew for certain about the published order of the sonnets. They certainly seem to be connected - the beginning, though perfectly fine on its own, continues a thought so clearly from the previous poem that it's hard to know how else to read them. So how do we take no. 69? Was the speaker really just warning the youth about the (clearly unsubstantiated) gossip that was going around, and now reassures him that the gossip just shows how much everyone envies him? Don't tell me the speaker is like that friend who insists on reporting all the worst things people are saying about you.

The youth's beauty is the "sweetest air" and the crow is a bird of ill omen - so, yeah, probably the "slander."

Line six is considered a bit opaque (and come to think of it, it's been a while since we saw a weird one). "Thy worth the greater {than whose worth? Presumably greater than the people who are slandering him, but there's no real noun it's referring to}, being wooed of time {What?}" Would anyone like to weigh in on that "being wooed of time" bit?

Aug 8, 2012, 12:07pm Top

Slander/vice the more attracted to beauty/youth, hence the more slander in time the greater worth (the youth's own worth is greater with slander and over time than itself without, 'thy worth' the reference noun of greater,) since apparently he's aging like, say, Robert Redford: passed by the ambush of younger days without canker vice. And still a babe in his prime. Suspicion (suspect) is the crow, more than jealousy, repeated twice, unless of course in Elizabethan English it means something different. The closing couplet seems a tad ambiguous to me (?), as if even after all the fawning still suspicion remains, with a tone that belies a bit the declared judgement of innocence.

Aug 8, 2012, 2:12pm Top

//hence the more slander in time the greater worth//

Yeah, but I'm not sure I'd describe that as "wooing." Or am I misunderstanding?

Aug 8, 2012, 6:27pm Top

Merely a penny's worth direct 'see bob run' reading, mine, nothing subtle or structurally understood...leave that to you two. Anyway... the lad has come this far unstained, through time, so one could read it as both slander or corruption and time or time itself smitten still by the lad. But, let me do a ggoogle....and here is quick summary:6. Thy worth the greater, being wooed of time;
Thy worth the greater = that your worth is greater (than previously thought).
being wooed of time = time also is in love with you. The phrase does not seem entirely apposite here, in that it does not follow on from the rest of the sentence. Commentators have struggled to find its meaning. The phrase may mean nothing more than 'you are beautiful, in that time has bestowed gifts on you'. JK suggests that the corruptions of the age set out to seduce the youth (he is wooed by time), but when they do not succeed, since he remains good, the envious tongues of slander merely prove that he is even more worthy. The allurements of time are fickle (126) and it is not to be trusted. The line has the additional difficulty of the their/thy misprint:

So thou be good,ſlander doth but approue,
Their worth the greater being woo'd of time,

Aug 8, 2012, 8:13pm Top

Cynara, my deepest sympathies for your insomnia! I hate when that happens. I am pretty fortunate at falling asleep as soon as I go to bed most night, which makes the occasional outlier even more frustrating.

This rapid change of mood is the kind of thing that makes me wish we knew for certain about the published order of the sonnets.
Yes, yes, yes.

I'm enjoying your and Albert's discussion of that pesky Line 6. I must say that I couldn't make head nor tails of it. I think Alberto may have hit on something when he says that the end of the line does not necessarily follow on from the beginning.

I'll be back very shortly with Sonnet 71.

Aug 8, 2012, 8:23pm Top

OK, I promise I will post Sonnet 71 soon, but I have to share this intriguing tidbit about Nos. 69-70 that I found while checking to see if my book had a misprint in No. 71. The site RegainedHamlet.com claims that Nos. 69-70 are both meant to be read as being about the character of Ophelia in Hamlet! Here's the note for 69:
Sonnet 69 is about the Ophelia character in 'Hamlet,' as is the following Sonnet 70. Ophelia was probably played by the boy actor who's the addressee in Sonnet 20. Some sentiments in Sonnet 69 are mixed between the Ophelia character and the boy, particularly "foes" (competitors) in line 4. The boy had competitors for his roles, and there was competition from other playing companies.

With respect to interpreting the Ophelia character in Hamlet, the Playwright, in this Sonnet, is indirectly cautioning us to be careful of having "common" thoughts about her. The Sexton Clown (Gravedigger) expresses "common" thoughts about her, by the way - so be cautious of that passage in Hamlet.
And about 70:
Sonnet 70 is about the Ophelia character in Hamlet. It's Ophelia's Love Sonnet.
He also has a whole page about these and other sonnets that are purportedly about Ophelia. You can find it here.

I've never come across this site before, so I have no idea if it's a reputable one or just a single-minded crackpot. One more oddness in relation to No. 70, and in light of Alberto's comment above about the typo of 'Their' for 'Thy':
L6: Their = slanders'.
This word is not "thy."
"Their" is the word in the original 1609 publication, it is correct, and the change to a different word, as found in most modern reprints, is only an editorial blunder.
A pun is intended with "there."
"Their worth the greater" = 'the greater worth there.'
If you see a reprint of Sonnet 70 which has the word "Thy" in line 6 you'll know you don't have genuine Shakespeare, and any other Sonnets from that same source should be viewed with suspicion.
What do you folks think of all this?

Aug 8, 2012, 9:53pm Top

While I admire his focus, mentioning casually on the homepage that he has "300 or 400 points of disagreement" with the Arden Shakespeare - and literally, and would you like to read them - does suggest crackpot.

That and I would suggest that some of his line readings are, well, wrong. I don't believe that "so thou be good" means "you are so good." It seems to me that "So thou be good, slander doth but approve/Thy worth the greater" *needs* to be read "if you are good, then slander will just show that your worth is even greater."

I also don't see the strong link between these sonnets and Ophelia. If I were to match them to a Shakespeare character, I'd probably pick Hero from Much Ado About Nothing, or Hermione from A Winter's Tale, both of whom are slandered and then vindicated.

Anyway, there's room for everyone at the Shakespeare table, and you guys should take a look and form your own opinions.

Aug 8, 2012, 10:07pm Top

He may have some good points scattered around, but I can't help feeling that he's trying awfully hard to fit some square pegs into some round holes. At any rate, I was not inspired to bookmark the site for future consultation, although finding it was certainly good for 15 minutes or so entertainment!

Aug 8, 2012, 10:19pm Top

I'm moving on to Sonnet 71, but before I do I want to say I would still welcome any and all thoughts on the things we've been discussing in re No. 70 and earlier sonnets. As far as I'm concerned, we are never done discussing any sonnet if someone wants to explore a new angle or add some commentary!
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vildest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
    Lest the wise world should look into your moan
    And mock you with me after I am gone.
Aw, this one's kinda sweet even if it is a bit morbid (yes, we're back to contemplating death, friends). This time, though, it's the narrator's own death that he is musing upon. He's asking his loved one not to mourn him when he's gone, because he would rather be forgotten than think that he (or his absence) should give his love any pain.

The whole first quatrain is elegant, but I especially like the alliteration of surly sullen bell and of course From this vile world with vildest worms to dwell (it was the word 'vildest' that set me searching and eventually stumbling on the Regained Hamlet site, but all I learned is that the original text says 'vildest' but it's still unclear whether it is a mere typo or a neologism).

Thankfully, no one took Will's advice to remember not / The hand that writ it, nor his urging to not so much as my poor name rehearse. It does beg the question, however, what it was about this relationship that would lead the narrator to believe that the wise world would be so disapproving that it would mock you with me after I am gone. Was it an inappropriate relationship in some way? Perhaps the fact that it was a male-male romantic attachment (if indeed it was)? Or perhaps a large age difference? Would that have even been scandalous back in Will's day? It seems any number of written works have reference to men being much older than their mates.

Aug 9, 2012, 7:21am Top

Just to be a bit, ah, well, sort of anal-ish on 70, but I think I should make clear that the summary I put up above isn't mine but a cut and paste from a site which, if and most probably being a more thorough reading, throws my first interpretation to the crows. (And makes the reading simpler if 'thy' really was 'their,' making slander both the clearer noun reference and the thing wooed of time.)

C and R, though crackpots might have cracked pots, they still sometimes do have at least solid if cracked pots whereas uncracked academia sometimes is so because self-referencing communities sometimes tend to ignore the pot at hand. (Like, say, the world right now.) Anyway, though 69-70 might not have very clear Hamlet-ian language, certainly 71 does. Of course, it also kinda' reminds me of a combination of Rick's last hurrah in Casablanca with Ior in Winnie-The-Pooh and an Alison Morisette tune. Or an average aged Italian mother's phone call to her son: Elsa-son-lad, the troubled love of two people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. So forget about our deep, incomparable and timeless connection, and don't worry about poor, abandoned, self-effacing, little old inconsequential me. I'll be alright. Because ILL BE DEAD, and the LAST thing I want is for you to REMEMBER HOW MUCH I LOVED OF YOU FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, seeing as how everyone else in the world is so evil and no one will ever LOVE YOU LIKE I DID. Go on. Forget ME. Go ahead with your life. SORRY IF I DISTURBED you in the MIDDLE OF DINNER.) At least Rick was direct and macho about it. We'll always have Paris. Here's looking at you, kid. Now get. Anyway.

All this death stuff does sort of takes me on a wild cracked pot chase to wonder if a teenaged Will gazed directly at the drowned Hamnet's (without the l, a real young woman in Stratford, supposedly a suicide,) body on the banks of the Avon. I'll go back to lurking now with my undrowned, very lively battle cows and cool mountain air. I only wish Will had composed even more sonnets, condemning you two to an even longer debate and the rest of us to even more of this unique pleasure.

Aug 9, 2012, 8:54am Top

Alberto, thank you for the early morning laugh! I liked your imaginary dialogue about No. 70 — having had an Italian grandmother myself, that sounded just about right!

You and Cynara know very well that I am woefully ignorant about Shakespeare, but I had in my mind that Hamnet was the name of his son, who died young?

I suspect by the time we are through with all 154 sonnets, Cynara will be very glad indeed of a rest. I hope we'll both miss the conversation, though; I know I will. :)

Aug 9, 2012, 11:31am Top

Yeah, that was, I recall, Shakespeare's son's name, but you can do a google...I may, as usual, be mixing names from very, very old reading reading (I was thinking Katherine Hamnet, last name not first, in some distant reference. Maybe someone here will know. But I even of late mixed up two barmen's names, calling Marcello - the guy who at Caffe Sant'Eustachio makes an absurdly perfect, really world-best espresso, with an Angelo instead. All this google drop-down stuff is turning an ancient 3-layered part of my brain into a whimp.)

Aug 9, 2012, 11:51am Top

My grandmother would say "Don't worry about me! I'm fine" - to the point where it became a running joke with my mom and me.

I'm still thrilled to be doing this. We may want another breather once we get north of #100 or so, but we'll see how we feel.

Aug 9, 2012, 12:27pm Top

No, you're right I think - Hamnet was Will's short-lived kid.

I quite like #70, too, though I agree that the opening is better than the (rather limp, I thought) final couplet. Setting aside the rhyme, even, I suspect it would sound better in Original Pronunciation.

what it was about this relationship that would lead the narrator to believe that the wise world would be so disapproving that it would mock you with me after I am gone.
Good question. For me, this hearks back to No. 32, which is all about picturing a future where the young man prizes the sonnets for their (now deceased) author's love, not for their pitifully outdated style, etc. etc. It ends, "But since he died and poets better prove,/ Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love'." Maybe Will is saying that people will mock the youth for missing such a mediocre poet? Or maybe for his low birth? Or maybe for the passionate relationship that wasn't entirely "normal"?

Aug 9, 2012, 12:47pm Top

Alberto, my memory is fading fast! I have new sympathy for my mom who, when she addressed me was prone to run through "John ... I mean Josie ... whatever your name is! Come here!"

Cynara, I had forgotten those lines from No. 32; that's a good supposition. I guess we'll never know any of these things for sure, but I like that we can all come up with several very different possibilities to explain them.

Aug 9, 2012, 8:21pm Top

Are we ready for Sonnet 72?
O lest the world should task you to recite
What merit lived in me that you should love
After my death, dear love, forget me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy prove;
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie,
To do more for me than mine own desert,
And hang more praise upon deceasèd I
Than niggard truth would willingly impart.
O lest your true love may seem false in this,
That you for love speak well of me untrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And live no more to shame nor me nor you.
    For I am shamed by that which I bring forth,
    And so should you, to love things nothing worth
(Seventy) second verse, same as the (seventy) first. The poet continues to insist that his love should forget him once he's dead and gone, as there is nothing about him worth remembering unless he's willing to lie.

I'm not sure why, but even though this one says virtually the same thing as No. 71, it feels less sincere to me and more of the passive-aggressive 'no, I'm nothing' variety that we've encountered before. Probably for that reason I don't like it quite as much. And more talk of being shamed and ashamed, which (if it's not a touch of 'the lady doth protest too much') is such a harsh thought that I can't help but think whatever the truth about this love affair there must have been something in it that Will knew was likely to draw strong general disapproval.

We haven't talked much about the enjambment lately, but I found it particularly striking in the first quatrain here, where it seemed to lend a real air of hurrying and quickly speaking, perhaps over the protestations of his love?

It does have some nice turns of phrase. My name be buried where my body is is probably my favorite.

Aug 9, 2012, 10:05pm Top

Are you kidding us, Will? I mean look at that couplet. As the kids say these days, srsly? I hope you aren't tired of the when-I'm-dead-just-push-me-into-a-corner sonnets, because I believe there are a couple more coming.

To quote: (ahem) "You cannot read a poem which asks you to forget its writer, without at the same time having the memory of that writer continuously thrust into your thoughts." Isn't there also a contradiction with his grand "So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

Well, actually, this does have some sweet lines. I do like the simple, conversational "dear love, forget me quite."

You're right, the enjambment is striking, but I totally missed it. It does make it those lines hurry, though I don't quite understand why Will would want that there. What do you think?

Aug 9, 2012, 10:12pm Top

As I read it, I was picturing the poet reading it aloud or rather that this was a speech he made to his love, and he was hurrying because the lover was protesting — protesting the idea of the poet dying before him, or the idea that he would ever forget him if he did, or the notion that there is nothing worthy about him.

I like that quote. The very act of telling us to forget him ensures we cannot.

Aug 13, 2012, 8:15pm Top

Well, that's certainly a different take on that one! It doesn't seem quite so lovey-dovey to me now. :)

Aug 13, 2012, 8:27pm Top

Here we are at Sonnet 73, wherein I found a surprise:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
    This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Oh! A line I recognize, and it's not the first line but rather the last line of the first quatrain: Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. I remember reading that line as a quotation in some book or other (I want to say it was the Robert B. Parker novel Early Autumn). When Parker's Spenser used the line he did not attribute it and I had no idea where it was from, but I loved it instantly. Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. I'm sure I've used it myself many times since then, still never knowing its origin. And here it is!

OK, let me settle down a bit and actually talk about the rest of the sonnet. It's another musing on mortality, and an especially lovely one at that. (I don't think I'm too unduly influenced by that one line, as there are several memorable lines here, not least of which is the final one: To love that well which thou must leave ere long. Oh, and that second line: When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang — what an interesting turn of phrase that is.)

The narrator knows what his dearest sees when he gazes upon our narrator: A man in the — yes, early autumn — of life, someone closer to old age and death than he is to youth and being born. But knowing that does not make the youth pull away; no, it makes his love even stronger, knowing that what they have will not last forever.

I just really, really like this one. This is one that I would love to memorize and be able to recite in full.

Aug 14, 2012, 9:49pm Top

Apologies for the delay! I loved your post on no. 73 and have been trying to think of anything to add to it. It's always lovely to come across a much-loved line in context - it hails us like an old friend, and it's made new by the context.

One question: To love that well which thou must leave ere long. Though I agree that the most obvious and satisfying conclusion is that "that" is the poet, could it be something else?

Mmmm. Are you a quick study at memorizing poetry? I find sonnets relatively easy to learn (emphasis on "relatively"). Maybe I should think about picking one out to 'keep'.

Aug 14, 2012, 11:03pm Top

No apologies necessary! I'm glad you like my post; I worried I was being a little too random with my associations.

Hmmm, what else could that line mean? This is a tough one! Usually when I'm trying to find alternate line readings, I try switching the parts of speech of various words, because it seems that often when I don't understand a line it's because a word is being used in a way I didn't expect. So, with that in mind, perhaps 'well' is a noun? To love that well which thou must leave ere long. — could mean loving a well (perhaps the fountain of youth?) even knowing that you cannot have it forever. Maybe a literal fountain of youth — the poet knows he is aging — or maybe the youth's affections have been acting as a virtual fountain of youth for him, and he knows that the older he gets, the less likely the youth will continue to love him? And so the love he feels for him now is even stronger for knowing it is fleeting?

I'm not sure I've convinced myself of that reading, so I won't be surprised if I haven't convinced you, either. :) Do you have a theory? (I bet you do!)

Aug 15, 2012, 1:22pm Top

Alternately, could it be youth itself that the young man will soon be leaving?

Aug 15, 2012, 1:53pm Top

Hmm, I like that idea (soon leaving youth), Cynara, although I took it the other way based on the earlier part of the sonnet, and the others we've been reading. That alternate reading intrigues me now - it can be made to fit what comes before.

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. I've always loved that line, too, and had no idea it came from one of the sonnets. This sonnet is now one of my favorites, too.

Aug 15, 2012, 4:04pm Top

>116 Cynara: Cynara, I really like your alternate reading. In one sense, it makes the poem a bit less poignant to me, but that's probably because I'm closer in age to the poet than the youth. I finished mourning for lost youth a few years ago. :-)

>117 jnwelch: I'm so glad that you love this soonet, too!

(Cyn, I just have to add that when I first typed your name on my iPad, it auto-corrected to ConAgra!)

Aug 15, 2012, 4:18pm Top

I agree; I like our first reading better, too.

Aug 15, 2012, 5:13pm Top

If anyone doubts the value of a tutored thread, this is a perfect example of why I love it. It would never have occurred to me that there could even BE an alternate reading, let alone several of them. Even though we both agree that we prefer the initial reading, exploring the possibilities really gives me a deeper appreciation of the poem.

Aug 15, 2012, 10:00pm Top

How much I prefer the first reading just shows how attached I've become to our speaker, no matter how infuriating I occasionally find him. Of course the youth should love (him) well, I think posessively.

Aug 16, 2012, 3:31pm Top

I am heading out of town for a long weekend tomorrow morning, so I won't be tutorizing much between 7 am Friday and 6 pm Monday (and let's be honest, I'll probably be spending the rest of that evening washing the campfire smoke out of my hair and catching up with Mr. Cynara.)

I will check this thread this evening, though, barring brainwrongs.

Aug 16, 2012, 4:05pm Top

That sounds like a good time! I will try to get one posted fairly early tonight, but please don't worry if you don't get to it before you leave. Will and I shall patiently await your return, hopefully with lots of good stories. :)

Aug 16, 2012, 7:33pm Top

On to Sonnet 74, which appears to be a continuation of No. 73, maybe?
But be contented when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away;
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee.
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me.
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch’s knife,
Too base of thee to be rememb’red.
    The worth of that is that which it contains,
    And that is this, and this with thee remains
More mortality musings (try saying that three times fast). I may still be having a little love hangover from No. 73, but this one didn't quite do it for me. Although I can't really say there's anything specifically bad about it — maybe a little too direct, with the talk of rotting in the earth and being eaten by worms?

I have to say, though, that final couplet is a beauty of clever language twisting:
The worth of that is that which it contains, / And that is this, and this with thee remains.
I like that quite a bit!

Aug 16, 2012, 11:21pm Top

I really like this one, actually. For one thing, I love Will's affirmations of the vitality of his "powrefull rime," which will outlast everything else. Maybe I'm just used to the Elizabethans' endless maundering on about worms and the grave. :-)

For another, I feel like this one is directed from Will to me, as a reader, and not just to the speaker's Elizabethan boy-toy. As much as we'd love to know more about the man, here he is saying "forget that. The best part of me is on the page. Would you really enjoy these poems more if you knew what I ate for lunch, if I kept a servant, whether I loved my wife? This is my spirit you're reading." It's a little song to the triumph of art and love over death.

I love "When thou reviewest this, thou dost review/ The very part was consecrate to thee."

I wonder if he was thinking about Kit (Christopher) Marlowe when he spoke about "the coward conquest of a wretch's knife"? I suppose it also echoes Death and his scythe.

Aug 17, 2012, 12:11am Top

I really like that thought, that this sonnet is from Will to his readers. "A little song to the triumph of art and love over death" — very nice!

I don't know much about Christopher Marlowe, except that he was also a playwright and he died in mysterious circumstances — stabbed in a bar fight, maybe? I gather that he and Will knew each other — were they rivals or friends? If that line is meant to refer to him it would seem to indicate they were friends, maybe?

You've given us a lot to think about over the long weekend, Cynara! I hope you have a great time on your adventure. We'll look forward to hearing from you when you are back next week.

Aug 17, 2012, 7:53am Top

Thank you! I can't wait to get out of the city for a few days. Have a great weekend when you get there, everyone!

Aug 21, 2012, 10:44pm Top

It just occurred to me that you might be waiting for me to check in; if you are, here I am!

Aug 21, 2012, 10:52pm Top

I'm posting Sonnet 75 now, but our discussion will await Cynara's return from the back of beyond. I'm sure she's having a great time out there!
So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet seasoned show'rs are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ’twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starvèd for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
    Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
    Or gluttoning on all, or all away.
Feast or famine, that seems to be our theme here. His beloved is as essential to the narrator as the food he eats to live, or the rain that gives life to the living world. The narrator is torn between a desire to keep the beloved all to himself and wanting to show him off to the world, just as a miser is torn between hoarding his wealth and rubbing other people's noses in it.

I struggled with a couple of lines: Lines 5-6 (Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon / Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure) are particularly obscure to me although I get the general idea that he is of two minds about whether to keep his love to himself or shout it from the rooftops. Similarly, And by and by clean starvèd for a look gave me pause.

Despite some rather opaque (to me) lines, I like this one. At least I can relate to the sentiment behind it. You want everyone to know what a treasure you've captured, but at the same time you are half afraid that someone more desirable than you will steal that treasure for herself (or himself, as the case may be). The language doesn't really support it, but the sentiment is pure country music (and as you remember it is my life's mission to recast Will and his sonnets into a country crooner's repeteroire). :-)

Aug 21, 2012, 10:53pm Top

Ah! I must have sensed your return, as I was posting the new sonnet just as you were checking in. Welcome back! I hope you had a great long weekend, Cynara!

Aug 22, 2012, 10:39pm Top

Read "owner" for "enjoyer" in line five and "fearing" for "doubting" in line six, and it's a bit clearer; there's also that lesser meaning of "enjoying" as sexual possession (and "treasure" can be a double entendre, too, now that I think about it).

"by and by - eventually, or soon; like Hamlet: "Then I will come to my mother, by and by."
"clean" as in totally, absolutely, utterly - so, "clean starved for a look" (at you).

Dividing up No. 75
This one has an odd rhythm to it. I thought I'd see how it divides up:

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet seasoned show'rs are to the ground;

Awwww! Will, you sweet thing, etc.

And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ’twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;

Wow. That's a bit... intense. Still, at least you're holding all this strife in, right?

Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starvèd for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.

Woah. Now you're the miser in the metaphor? How quickly did we go from "his" to "my" treasure, hmm? We've past intense here. Maybe you need some distance from this relationship.

Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

You're not changing my mind here. Also, this isn't a very strong volta, Will; it almost blends into your last sestet or quatrain or whatever.

Aug 22, 2012, 11:08pm Top

Cynara, I am picturing your line-by-line commentary as handwritten notes from a professor on a student's paper, and it's making me giggle nearly uncontrollably. So what grade does poor Master Will get? On this sonnet, I'd say about a B- / C+ from me. Though if I were the teacher I would also wuss out and add a lame 'shows promise' at the end to soften the blow.

I'll try to collect myself long enough to say your breakdown puts into words what I think I was feeling as I read it, so thank you! Your explanations of the lines that confused were very helpful as well.

Aug 27, 2012, 8:18pm Top

Are we ready for No. 76? I think we are!
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument.
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
    For as the sun is daily new and old,
    So is my love still telling what is told.
I thought this one — while still a variation on the "how great thou art" theme — had a refreshingly original angle. Which is rather ironic since the whole sonnet is Will's explanation for why he doesn't write about anything new! I wonder if he'd gotten any feedback from friends or his fair youth suggesting that he might try plowing some new ground once in a while. (Ooh, accidental double entendre on my part!)

I especially like the final couplet for its sweetness: For as the sun is daily new and old / So is my love still telling what is told.

Aug 28, 2012, 3:24pm Top

I always find these self-reflexive ones interesting: a sonnet about sonnets. Here's a whole page of them: Sonnets about Sonnets. It omits what might be the most famous one - Wordsworth's Scorn not the Sonnet, which contains the famous line "with this key/ Shakespeare unlocked his heart".

Aug 28, 2012, 7:14pm Top

Thanks for those links, Cynara. I would never have guessed there were so many sonnets about sonnets. I like the Wordsworth quote, too. :)

Aug 28, 2012, 7:21pm Top

Lucky 77, coming right up!
Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
The vacant leaves thy mind’s impr'nt will bear,
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste:
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthèd graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
Time’s thievish progress to eternity.
Look what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
    These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
    Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.
There are a number of words here that I have strong suspicions do not mean what I think they mean, and it's confusing the heck out of me. For example:

Those children nurses, delivered from thy brain — I don't think he literally means children, here, but I'm not quite grasping what he actually intends.

These offices, so oft as thou wilt look, — Not literal offices, I assume, where people work. I have a vague thought that there is some clerical type meaning of offices, but I'm not sure that fits, either.

Despite my confusion, I like what (I think) the narrator is saying. If I'm reading it right, he's more or less saying that instead of dwelling on how one's face has aged, or how much time has gone by in your life, you should concentrate on the memories that lie behind the wrinkles and that filled the hours. If you do that, you won't feel so much regret at getting old.

Is that a little bit close?

Edited: Aug 28, 2012, 9:44pm Top

Close, but you're missing some good bits in the metaphor. I get to make myself useful! Mwa ha ha!

Now, take a look at this:
"One has to suppose that a blank book (a table or tables, see Sonnet 122) accompanies the sonnet as a gift, or in some other way is the subject of the sonnet. It has been suggested that the glass and the dial were also a gift. At any rate some antecedent situation such as the despatch of a gift must be supposed if we are to explain the existence of the book. KDJ suggests that the book is that of the sonnets, with some blank leaves. This would help to give better meaning to the concluding couplet, which hardly makes sense as it stands. Or perhaps the youth had been given a blank book (tables) by someone else, a parent even, with a suggestion that it be filled with aphorisms and useful thoughts, as was the fashion of the time. The discussion then was to decide how to fill it, or to explain why it had lain unused for so long. Another explanation is that the blank leaves are the empty unwritten pages of the young man's mind."

So the first part goes - the mirror will show how you're aging, and the clock will show you how time is passing.
Then - The blank pages will bear your mind's thoughts, and this book will let you read the wise things written in it
Then the bit about how the youth's wrinkles will remind him of yawning graves (really, Will?), and how, again, the clock (or sundial) will remind him of how time steals away.
Another tough bit - Whatever you can't keep in your memory can be kept on these blank pages, and you'll find that the book cares for your brain's children like a nanny (hey, it sounds better when he says it, I know) and you'll become acquainted with the thoughts/brain babies all over again. (Hey, I'm going for clarity here, not beauty.)
These duties ("offices" suggests duties, prayers, or exercises), whenever you do them, will benefit you and "enrich" your book.

And I'll steal again:
"...the enriching of the book (if it is a blank book) is presumably done by writing observations in it. Here it is suggested that merely looking in it enriches it. If it is totally blank, then looking on blank leaves is a totally fatuous exercise and enriches neither observer nor observed. The looking however could be in the glass or the dial, and making philosophical observations thereon. KDJ suggests that the book is the book of the poet's sonnets, which will have blank spaces and pages in it, and that the poet's self-effacement allows him even to pretend that his sonnets are so many empty lines, leaving the pages blank. Nevertheless his thoughts filter through in some way, and the youth couples them with his own thoughts on mortality, thus enriching the book and his experience at the same time.
The meaning and setting of the sonnet, however, because we are uncertain of the nature of 'thy book', remains rather mysterious."

So, yes, it's unlikely we'll ever know exactly what Will means by all these pages and books, but it seems clear that it was written to accompany some kind of book - whether a blank book, as he repeatedly says (which frankly makes more sense to me; why would an author straight-out say that his book was blank, no matter how self-effacing he is? It's just confusing), or a copy of the sonnets.

But wait, there's more! Elizabethan numerology, after the break.

Aug 28, 2012, 10:18pm Top

I totally missed all that bit about the book! I like the theory that perhaps Will gave him a gift of a blank book, perhaps with just this sonnet written on the first page. It really helps all the rest of it make sense.

All that and Elizabethan numerology, too? Be still my beating heart.

Aug 28, 2012, 11:33pm Top

Note that I am making no representations as to the credibility of this theory, but here's what I've read in my (generally non-crazy) sources.

I understand from my readings that Ancient Greek astrology believed some years of a person's life to be climacteric years, potentially dangerous periods of change or even death. Sevens and nines feature prominently. One discussion of climacterics is at Creedopedia, though Wikipedia wins for thoroughness and clarity.

I've mostly skipped references to climacteric numbers so far*, as I haven't had a clear idea of them, and until recently I wasn't aware of the theory that other Elizabethan authors had limited their sonnet sequences to significant numbers. Of course, people have picked out themes of "the demise of love, life, youth and beauty, either for the poet, or the beloved, or both" from sonnets with apparently significant numbers.

Now, 77, as well as being related to the climacteric 7, is also halfway through our complete sonnet sequence of 154; some people believe that this is a new beginning, of sorts, though I think it would make more sense as an ending to the first half - mathematically, 78 starts the second half of the sonnets.

I admit, until I looked this up, it hadn't occurred to me that we're halfway through. Is it time for reflection & review, or shall we forge ahead?

* e.g. this note to No. 49, the one which ends "To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,/ Since why to love I can allege no cause." Sigh.

"The number 49 was regarded by the Elizabethans as an important, even critical number, being the seventh multiple of seven. Seventh sons were looked upon with special awe, the seventh son of a seventh son even more so. They were thought to have special healing powers. A quack in James I time was prosecuted for claiming to cure 'the evil' by the Touch, but it was discovered that his father had had only six sons. (Shakespeare’s England, Oxford 1916, I.427.) Elizabeth's survival past the grand climacteric, the 63rd year of her life, was thought to be almost miraculous."

Aug 29, 2012, 12:31am Top

The numerology stuff is fascinating, Cyn. Those are the kinds of things that go right over my head. There certainly is a lot more to all of this than meets the eye, which is exactly why I'm so glad to have you along for the ride!

I think a little reflection & review at the halfway mark would be a very good thing! I'm off the bed now, but I'll do some thinking about highlights and lowlights from the first half, and be back tomorrow with something.

But you know what I'd really love? If some of our faithful lurkers (shoudl any still be hanging in with us) take this chance to chime in and share any of their most or least favorites sonnets or lines from the first 77 sonnets. Don't be shy, now!

Aug 29, 2012, 9:18pm Top

Right, so a look back at the first 77 sonnets. Here are some of the things that come to mind:

* I liked a lot of them, loved several of them, was left cold by a few of them.

* I've gotten over feeling guilty for not liking one particular sonnet or another thanks to you, Cynara. I know it took a while to beat through my head, but I've finally accepted that just because Will was a genius doesn't mean he hit a home run every time out. Or that a sonnet I don't care for isn't beloved by someone else, and that both opinions are equally valid. This is maybe my favorite part of what we've done so far!

* I'm glad we are reading them through, one by one, in order. At the same time, I can see how individual sonnets might be more effective on their own, without having to live up to the genius that came just before, or being burdened by striking a slightly too similar note in a string of sonnets on the same theme.

* When we first started, I thought I had to know everything about the "narrative" of the sonnets — which ones were (presumed to be) written for the "fair youth", which were written for the "dark lady", etc. Now I realize that while some of that background can enhance my understanding of individual sonnets, most of them really stand on their own, outside of that narrative thread.

* On the other hand, the information that you've provided about the language, customs, and traditions of the Elizabethan age in which the sonnets were written has been amazing in the way it gives such added depth to the sonnets, whether they were initially difficult to understand or straightforward.

* I love the links to videos of people reading the sonnets, or certain critical viewpoints of the sonnets, and all the other extra materials you've brought to the table. Some of it's deeply important to understanding the sonnets as I wrote above, but some of it's just plain fun. And that's really been one of my goals all along: to have fun reading poetry.

OK, that's my two cents worth. Who's next?

Aug 30, 2012, 8:32am Top

I'd say the biggest thing I learned was that a lot of the sonnets were to a man. That was a huge surprise. I had no idea. I still struggle with the poetry part. I don't really appreciate it. I like the talk about the meaning and history behind the sonnets though.

Aug 30, 2012, 9:43pm Top

I'm continuing to find this tremendously rewarding; I'm getting such a solid look at the themes and the 'feel' of the sonnets as a whole, and all the ups and downs they chronicle. I also know that the real pay-off will come when I read them again some time, individually or as a group - or even see a stray line somewhere. That's my favourite part, because then I can read the sonnet like it's fresh - and have all the technical and historical stuff at the back of my head, enriching the experience.

Recently, I've had two patches of favourites - the bit around 64/65/66 and 73/74. (See the full, easily browsed text of the sonnets here if you want to search & flip around). I'm excited about the Dark Lady sonnets coming up. There's yet another theory about who she was, which I'll probably post once we're further in.

Re. feeling 'required' to like poems - I think of it like music. We all have favourite periods, favourite bands - I like Bach and Vivaldi and Verdi and the Sex Pistols and Nine Inch Nails and Interpol and Die Andwoord - but there are lots of ways to love music, and believing you don't like poetry isn't that different from saying you don't like music. Music is more immediately accessible, but in both cases there's a TON of variety out there, and you have to go with your gut. Anyway, off soapbox.

Morphy, sorry to hear you aren't loving the W.S. Maybe you're more of an Alexander Pope person, or a Coleridge, Lear, Kipling, Millay, Eliot, Auden, Ginsberg, cummings, etc. etc. etc. person? (And those are just the dead white males, pace Millay).

Edited: Aug 31, 2012, 1:19pm Top

I'm glad we're both still having fun! And I agree with most of your picks for favorites. Of course we all know how I feel about No. 73. :-)

I really felt before we started this tutoring project that there was no way I could read the sonnets without some sort of help, an annotated edition, a class, or a personal tutor (which turned out to be the best of all). And one of the things that I am most happy about and most grateful to you for, Cynara, is that I now feel that I can tackle any poetry I want. Yes, I might not get everything out of it just by reading it on my own, but that's OK. And re-reading at different times and in different moods will reveal new things about poetry in ways that it doesn't for me in prose (though I will say that I do re-read a fair amount of prose as well, but for different reasons).

Cynara's advice for you is good, Morphy. Maybe Shakespeare just isn't your bag. In fact, I don't know if you were hanging around the thread when Cynara posted her link to Billy Collins' poetry, but I really liked his work, which seems much more straightforward and easy to understand while still retaining what I think of as the "character" of poetry.

Aug 31, 2012, 11:03am Top

Maybe when Shakespeare is done we could find a book of various dead white poets and go over them. That would be cool.

I'm sticking with the sonnets to the end though. I want to check it off my list! :D

Aug 31, 2012, 1:20pm Top

I'm glad you're sticking with us, Morphy! The more the merrier.

Aug 31, 2012, 3:27pm Top

Ja, an anthology would be a cool tutoring read.

I'm happy you're staying with our merriye companye! (Note the faux-Eliz. spelling.) You're always good 'company', Morph.

Aug 31, 2012, 3:43pm Top

I'm more of a lurker, but glad you are doing this. I doubt I could make it through without you two.

Aug 31, 2012, 3:49pm Top

Reading these is something I always meant to do, too, and it's a heck of a lot more enjoyable doing it with the two of you (and various lurkers) than trying it alone. Plus I'm understanding them better by far than I would have on my own.

Aug 31, 2012, 5:09pm Top

Glad you're with us, Joe! Chime in any time.

Aug 31, 2012, 8:26pm Top

I second that, Joe! We're glad you're here with us, and you are welcome to throw an oar in the water anytime you like.

That goes for alla youse out there hidin' — I see ya behind that sofa. :-)

Aug 31, 2012, 8:36pm Top

I wanted to say that because this is a holiday weekend in the USA (Monday is Labor Day), I probably won't post a new sonnet until Tuesday. Of course, that means that we can all continue to discuss our reactions to the first half of the sonnets until then. :)

Sep 1, 2012, 4:27am Top

I'm still lurking along and enjoying this thread. I wish UK and USA holidays were the same - we had our holiday weekend last week and I'm ready to go again but lots of my threads and groups are having a break for this weekend...

Sep 1, 2012, 6:17am Top

The relaxed pace, personalized dialogue and natural breaks of your thread are a delight, giving those modicums of new knowledge - on the sonnets themselves, the serial nature of groups of them, on Elizabethan language and custom, Will, etc - both the time and place to settle in and stay. Pleasantly surprising to me are the varying expressions of theme from WS's plays to sonnets, the different ways same tendencies are articulated. Thank you much.

Sep 1, 2012, 9:26pm Top

Kerry, thanks for hanging out with us! I wish our holidays were better coordinated as well; it would make things ever so much easier. We'll be back on track soon, I promise!

And Alberto, always a joy to have you with us. I appreciate your contributions to our little project!

Sep 2, 2012, 5:29am Top

ah, ps: to C and Morphy: Poetry and music are more likely closer to us, our symphony of network dialogues, than words. I presume you do, (Morph.), but just in case not...of course read the sonnets, and nearly all of poetry generally, aloud and without inhibition. Rythm and silence often contain as much or contextually sometimes more information than words alone, breathing other strata and life into the later, just like music. Our abstracting, categorizing words most likely came later.

to R. The privilege and pleasure here is mine.

Sep 2, 2012, 9:55pm Top

This has nothing to do with Shakespeare, but I found myself reading some Yeats, and this famous poem finally spoke to my late-summer bittersweet desire to run into Nature and raise goats and poems by a lake.

Edited: Sep 2, 2012, 11:28pm Top

Oh, that's one of my favorites, Cyn! I can almost see and hear the "bee-loud glade". I need to find a version on YouTube read in a rich Irish accent!

ETA: And here is the poet himself reading The Lake Isle of Innisfree. Lovely.

Sep 3, 2012, 12:23am Top

Sometimes, man, he just hits it perfectly. "And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow". And "for always night and day/ I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore."

That recording is *wild*. It sounds familiar, so I think one of my profs may have played it for us in our Modernist class. Yeats was really into his image as Celtic bard, wasn't he?

The funny thing is that I don't actually enjoy his reading as much as I enjoy the poem itself. His old-fashioned technique gets in the way, for me, and interferes with the unstagey beauty of the words.

Sep 3, 2012, 12:23am Top

I'd probably find fault with Will reading his own sonnets. :-)

Sep 3, 2012, 12:34am Top

This was one of the first links from the Yeats video.

I can't decide if this poetry-interpretation lesson is the best thing or the most awkward thing ever: How to analyse a poem you have never seen before. I'm pretty sure it's one or the other.

Sep 3, 2012, 12:10pm Top

I kind of agree with you about the Yeats' reading. I really wanted to love it, and I do love certain bits, but overall it was a little sing-songy. I was surprised when I searched on YouTube how many versions of this poem there were sung by choirs and chorales. Apparently setting it to music is a big thing.

How fortunate that we do not have any Will recordings to be disillusioned by! :-)

Sep 3, 2012, 12:15pm Top

OK, I just went and watched that video — well, as much as I could get through. I lasted through the first R in ART WARS, ha! I just couldn't with that hair.

Sep 3, 2012, 12:23pm Top

It's actually pretty helpful, but she's a rather unorthodox narrator, with that hair and that lisp and that wide-eyed "just see this!" air.

Sep 4, 2012, 11:38am Top

Just for the heck of it...the Yeats poem sung in Italian..http://www.youtube.com/embed/VnngpHr_Cnc

Sep 4, 2012, 8:05pm Top

We are back in the saddle. Without further ado, here is Sonnet 78:
So oft have I invoked thee for my muse,
And found such fair assistance in my verse,
As every alien pen hath got my use,
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing,
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learnèd’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine and born of thee.
In others' works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces gracèd be;
    But thou art all my art, and dost advance
    As high as learning my rude ignorance.
There are a couple of intriguing things about this sonnet to me:

* Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing / And heavy ignorance aloft to fly; and then later
* In others' works thou dost but mend the style
Is Will saying that someone else has been writing about his beloved muse?

I do rather like the final couplet as well. But thou art all my art is very sweet.

Sep 4, 2012, 8:59pm Top

Woooo! Back in the saddle, like the speaker in sonnet #50.

Some people see #78 as a sort of beginning to the second half, complete with invocation to the muse. On one hand, yeah, he mentions an invocation and a muse, and classical epic poetry always started with the poet asking the muse to inspire his work. On the other hand, poem #1 doesn't mention any such thing, so...?

Is Will saying that someone else has been writing about his beloved muse?
Hoo boy yeah. In line 3 he's saying that "every alien pen" (i.e. pens wielded by strangers) is copying his habit of invoking the youth as his muse.

Naturally, if you believe that the speaker is Will and Shakespeare is writing about his friends, the next natural step is to spend 120 years and several small forests' worth of paper trying to work out exactly who Will is talking about here. If one assumes that he's got one particular person in mind (and some people do), the character is called the Rival Poet. There's precious little to go on. He's "learnèd"? Maybe? He's a poet? Or at least, he's an author.

There's a nice metaphor here - the bird is standing in for the rivals whose heavy, featherless writing the Youth's inspiration turns into poetic flight. Birds often stand in for poets - they're natural artists, creators who soar above the plebeian earth, etc. etc.

There's also something a little possessive about the last bit. Will writes that the Youth should favour his writings, because other authors write about many things, although their works are improved by the youth's influence. Will only writes about his friend (and, you know, a few little plays he dashes off in his spare time).

Sep 4, 2012, 9:24pm Top

Naturally, if you believe that the speaker is Will and Shakespeare is writing about his friends, the next natural step is to spend 120 years and several small forests' worth of paper trying to work out exactly who Will is talking about here.
Ha! I know I said that as we've proceeded through the sonnets I've become less interested in the underlying narrative of the "who-how-why" of the sonnets, but this has piqued my interest for sure! I'm wracking my brain to think of who Will's contemporary rivals were, and the only one that is coming immediately to mind is Christopher Marlowe.

I didn't know that about birds being common imagery for poets, but I like it. It gives extra meaning to those lines for me.

And yes, the last bit definitely sounds possessive and just a wee bit jealous! "Yeah, I know you've got other guys writing about you now, but just remember who wrote about you first, and who only writes about you!" (And, as you say, those few little plays. Heh.)

Sep 4, 2012, 9:28pm Top

Here's Wikipedia: "Among others, George Chapman, Christopher Marlowe, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Barnabe Barnes, Gervase Markham, and Richard Barnfield have been proposed as identities for the Rival Poet." I can't name a single thing by any of them except Marlowe, of course.

Sep 4, 2012, 9:50pm Top

Huh. Yeah, none of those guys had Will's shelf life, that's for sure. Even Marlowe, although at least we've heard of him.

Sep 5, 2012, 10:58am Top

I suppose "Yet be most proud of that which I compile,/For I'm William Goddamn Shakespeare" didn't scan.

Sep 5, 2012, 11:37am Top

Ha! Love that.

Sep 5, 2012, 12:04pm Top

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Sep 5, 2012, 7:43pm Top

It appears we've attracted some unwanted spammy baggage. Here's hope it gets flagged to oblivion soon.

And on to Sonnet 79:
Whilst I alone did call upon thy aid,
My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,
But now my gracious numbers are decayed,
And my sick muse doth give another place.
I grant, sweet love, thy lovely argument
Deserves the travail of a worthier pen,
Yet what of thee thy poet doth invent
He robs thee of and pays it thee again.
He lends thee virtue, and he stole that word
From thy behavior; beauty doth he give
And found it in thy cheek; he can afford
No praise to thee but what in thee doth live.
    Then thank him not for that which he doth say,
    Since what he owes thee thou thyself dost pay.
Oh, dear! It appears we were right about Will getting his envy on. And my sick muse doth give another place is awfully poignant, eh? And the whole sonnet drives home the same point: Yes, you've got others paying you compliments for your virtue and your beauty, but it's no more than you deserve. So don't be so flattered, because they are not telling you anything about yourself the whole world doesn't already know.

And of course, it wouldn't be our Will without some false modesty (well, I don't know if it's really false on his part but it has certainly not proved to be true): Thy lovely argument deserve the travail of a worthier pen, indeed!

One more note: Two lines in the middle of this sonet seem awfully familiar to me, but I don't know why: What of thee thy poet doth invent / he robs thee of and pays it thee again. I might just be imagining things, though, as I can't recall exactly where I might have read or heard them before.

Sep 5, 2012, 10:26pm Top

Yeah, the situation is sounding more and more serious. Not only are others being inspired by the youth, but he's favouring one of these arrivistes above our speaker. The nerve, etc.

What do you think of the effect of the enjambment in the second and third quatrains?

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 11:44pm Top

When I read it aloud, the enjambed lines scan very well. The rhythms are unforced and natural to me (that's not always the case in previous sonnets). And I think it gives a sense of urgency to the poet's argument. It's almost as if he's rushing to speak his piece even as his muse is turning away from him and walking away.

One other thing that comes to mind: It's always flattering when someone expresses approval of your romantic object. We want people to think well of our mate. But not too well. That seems to be what Will is confronting here. He was rather pleased that everyone acknowledged how great his muse was, but that doesn't mean he wants to share.

Sep 6, 2012, 3:23pm Top

It's almost as if he's rushing to speak his piece
I agree! "And another thing!"

Sep 6, 2012, 7:38pm Top

More trouble in paradise, coming right up in Sonnet 80:
O how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied speaking of your fame.
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark, inferior far to his,
On your broad main doth willfully appear.
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;
Or, being wracked, I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building and of goodly pride.
    Then, if he thrive and I be cast away,
    The worst was this: my love was my decay.
I really like this one! Not the sentiment, which sees our narrator having to compete for his muse's attention with another poet. But the language here is both poetic and direct, which can't be easy to do. Even the fact that the entire sonnet is basically another entry in the Poor Widdle Will™ series doesn't dent my affection for it. The first quatrain is just lovely, as is the final couplet.

Two vocab questions: The surrounding imagery is of an ocean and sailing, so I'm guessing that my saucy bark refers to a boat and not either a dog or a sore throat? And the next line — On your broad main doth willfully appear — is 'broad main' another sailing term?

Can't you just feel the poignancy in this lament? Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat / Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride.

Edited: Sep 6, 2012, 9:14pm Top

Yes, a bark is a boat - and the main is the ocean.

I'm reading this one far differently from you. While I also admire the language and the lovely balance between directness and poetry - but I'm reading all kinds of double-ententres into this one. "My saucy bark, inferior far to his.." - not to mention "spend(ing) all his might," riding upon the youth's soundless deep, and being "of tall building and goodly pride." OK, OK, I know, I'm fourteen at heart.

Also - is it "willfully" or "Willfully"?

Apart from that - I like the nautical turn of metaphor Will's taken here, and the interesting interplay between praise and silence: "using" the young man's name, and being tongue-tied.

Sep 6, 2012, 9:21pm Top

Why Cynara, you naughty minx! :-D

OK, I'll climb down in the gutter with you. Those are pretty racy double entendres, eh? I assume Will's contemporary readers would have caught on to those much quicker than I did? It does seem that poets of the day certainly enjoyed their sly sexual innuendoes. They're just my type. :)

Sep 6, 2012, 9:23pm Top

Hey, I'm not saying I'm 'right.' I'm not the only one who's seen that possibility, but I don't want it to overly influence your appreciation of the poem in a different light. Just because I see penis jokes everywhere....

Sep 6, 2012, 9:53pm Top

No, I like being able to look at it with a different eye. I don't really want to decide which is 'right', I just like knowing they both exist.

Sep 6, 2012, 11:16pm Top

Did your English teachers totally love you? Because I tell my teacher mom about stuff you write, and she's gobsmacked.

Sep 6, 2012, 11:25pm Top

Aw, you're making me blush! I think my English teachers and I had a mutual love affair. I love being shown things that make me rethink what a text means, or examining the little things that aren't immediately obvious but add to the mood or feeling of a text, like the enjambment in the last sonnet.

The truth is, I can be a pretty lazy reader on my own. I learned to read when I was 4, and ever since it's almost been a race to read more and more and more. I don't always take the time to slow down and really think. That's what the best of my English teachers did for me — they made me slow down and think. And that's what you do with the sonnets. And it's why I'm so thoroughly enjoying our journey.

Your mom teaches college English? I bet I would have loved her classes, if your anything to go by. :)

Sep 6, 2012, 11:53pm Top

Nah, she was a Latin teacher, then kindergarten, then reading. She still does some literacy tutoring, when she feels like it.

That's true about reading on your own vs. reading with someone.

(Now, if only my fatigue could win this fistfight with my insomnia before I buy any more things on Etsy.)

Sep 10, 2012, 9:48pm Top

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope Cynara got some rest over the weekend; heaven knows I didn't. But we will muddle through together anyway. And so to Sonnet 81:
Or I shall live, your epitaph to make,
Or you survive, when I in earth am rotten,
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die.
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombèd in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
    You still shall live—such virtue hath my pen—
    Where breath most breathes, ev'n in the mouths of men.
This is a funny one. It starts out all "You're awesome and your beauty and fame will iive forever; I'm a schmuck who will be forgotten as soon as they shovel dirt over my grave." Then the final quatrain reveals that while the narrator expects himself to be forgotten, he believes his paens of praise to his beloved will live forever.

I guess he's talking about us with that Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read, eh? The first time I read that line I interpeted "o'er-read" as "reading too much into" which made me laugh a little; then I realized he likely means "read over" instead. Still a good line, just not quite as funny in our context here. :-)

That Will fella sure was obsessed with death, eh? I suppose it was an occupational hazard for Elizabethan poets.

Sep 11, 2012, 1:09pm Top

I'm a schmuck who will be forgotten as soon as they shovel dirt over my grave.

That Will fella sure was obsessed with death, eh?
Ja, all that memento mori stuff was big, like the carved ivory below. Some of them were rosary pendants, or were otherwise carried around to keep it on your mind.

Some people have connected the heightened consciousness of death to the plagues, which closed the theatres down ever year or two & made death omnipresent. There are also injunctions in the Bible to keep your sinful impulses in line by thinking about your death, and whether all that sinning will be worth it then.

I mean, for heaven's sake, Will's contemporary John Donne (the brilliant, passionate poet and cleric) posed for this engraving of himself in his shroud & then was said to have kept it at his bedside in his last years, to remind him of what was coming. It's hard for me to understand, I suppose, how the man who wrote The Canonization and Break of Day looked at his own rather smug dead features every night.

Sep 11, 2012, 2:26pm Top

Oh, and a change of pace - here's Joss Whedon talking about Shakespeare's plays:

Although sonnets and superheroes might not seem like they go together, Whedon, who calls Shakespeare one of his "great teachers," believes the Bard fits nicely with much of his previous work.

"Shakespeare worked so much in fantasy. He was never afraid to flip from one mood to another, one genre to another," Whedon said, adding that he even cribbed Shakespearean language for his hit show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." "He was a populist, he was shameless, but he was always in service of the truth.

I really want to see his new Much Ado!

Sep 11, 2012, 5:35pm Top

That ivory geegaw is a strange combination of beautiful and creepy. It makes sense that people would think more about death during an era when death was so close at hand.

I don't know much about Joss Whedon (I've never seen "Buffy" or "Angel" or -- did he do "Firefly"? I've never seen that, either. But he sounds like he knows his Shakespeare. A new version of "Much Ado About Nothing" sounds exciting.

Sep 11, 2012, 5:36pm Top

I will be posting tonight's sonnet a bit late. Our Library Friends group has our annual meeting tonight. I expect it to wrap up sometime between 8:00-8:30, and will be home shortly thereafter. I hope it's worth waiting for!

Sep 11, 2012, 10:12pm Top

Sorry for my tardiness, but here without further ado is Sonnet 83:
I grant thou wert not married to my muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o'erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.
Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise,
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bett'ring days.
And do so, love; yet when they have devised
What strainèd touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized
In true plain words by thy true-telling friend.
    And their gross painting might be better used
    Where cheeks need blood—in thee it is abused.
I really had a hard time parsing this one out, especially the beginning, and I'm still not sure I've got it quite right. Our narrator seems to be telling his beloved that he can go ahead and read all those songs of praise written for him by other writers, but when it comes right down to it, they both know who really knows him best.

So I think that's the gist of it, maybe, but I can't help feeling I am missing quite a bit in the subtleties of language that I cannot quite unravel.

I do love those last two lines of the final quatrain, though: Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized / In true plain words by thy true-telling friend. Lots of truth in those lines!

Sep 13, 2012, 3:30pm Top

Sorry for my tardiness. I am busy at work, and I am losing my mind.

So, on to Will.

I'll do one of my increasingly rare Cynara Summations. Slightly later.

Edited: Sep 13, 2012, 8:42pm Top

Yes! Sorry.

You totally got the gist of it, but it's weird enough that I'll indulge myself by prosifying it.

I grant thou wert not married to my muse,
And therefore mayst without attaint o'erlook
The dedicated words which writers use
Of their fair subject, blessing every book.

I admit you weren't married to my poetry, and so (without shame) your eyes can stray to other writers' verses, the words they use about their fair subject which blesses every book. {NB -line four is tough to read. Do the words have a specific "fair subject"? Who or what is blessing "every book"?}

Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,
Finding thy worth a limit past my praise,
And therefore art enforced to seek anew
Some fresher stamp of the time-bett'ring days.

You're as educated as you are beautiful; you're realizing that you're better than my praise, and so you're looking for a new kind of poet, the latest model.

And do so, love; yet when they have devised
What strainèd touches rhetoric can lend,
Thou, truly fair, wert truly sympathized
In true plain words by thy true-telling friend.

And go ahead! Yet, when they've painstakingly pieced together some fancy, affected rubbish, you (who are truly beautiful) would be more accurately described in true plain words by your truthful friend.

And their gross painting might be better used
Where cheeks need blood—in thee it is abused.

And their tawdry makeup should be applied to pale, sallow faces - on you, it's false and wrong.

Sep 13, 2012, 8:42pm Top

Yep, no fancy technical poetry here - just plain, simple old Will Shakespeare.


Sep 14, 2012, 1:37pm Top

I like your breakdown, Cynara. It definitely answered the questions I had about some of the vocabulary, especially that pesky line 4!

Was it Will who wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth"? I think that's the takeaway from this one, and several of the ones before this (and perhaps for several more upcoming, for all I know).

I guess we'll find out next week! I hope your crazy-busy schedule gives you a break soon. It sure does seem to be that time of the year.

Edited: Sep 14, 2012, 9:09pm Top

Yeah, I think that's one of his. It's one of the plays, but I'm not sure which one without wiki-cheating. Romeo and Juliet? A Midsummer Night's Dream?

Edited: Sep 15, 2012, 7:14am Top

Midsummer. And he's basically right, I think, at least over the last 12,000 years or so, for most of us.

Sep 15, 2012, 4:55pm Top

Yep, I don't know anyone who's skated through love without getting the blade caught in a rut a time or two. No doubt it's part of what makes poetry written 400 years ago seem as fresh as yesterday's headlines.

Sep 18, 2012, 11:44am Top

Ah...I'd like to get into a short-ish discourse about it (our evolution in varying environments, the role that disperse and scarce resources may have played on love at first sight or scent, the role that concentrated, possessed resources and increasing group sizes played on the shift from a relatively normal dominance-based hierarchy to our basically unique abstract hierarchical-based dominance (male) societal forms over the past 10-12 thousand years, how then epigenetically modulated reproductive strategies continue nonetheless to express themselves and in those expressions are often contrary to all the baggage of our hierarchical-based dominance - and how Shakespeare, among others, intuited and expressed that so well. Better than all the scientists that struggle still...) but that would be for a different, well, a group in itself.

Sep 18, 2012, 7:20pm Top

Alberto, that is a big subject indeed! I'll need a nap before we tackle that one. :)

Edited: Sep 18, 2012, 10:38pm Top

And here we are at Sonnet 84. Are you ready?
Who is it that says most, which can say more
Than this rich praise, that you alone are you—
In whose conf'ne immurèd is the store
Which should example where your equal grew?
Lean penury within that pen doth dwell
That to his subject lends not some small glory.
But he that writes of you, if he can tell
That you are you, so dignifies his story.
Let him but copy what in you is writ,
Not making worse what nature made so clear,
And such a counterpart shall fame his wit,
Making his style admired everywhere.
    You to your beauteous blessings add a curse,
    Being fond on praise, which makes your praises worse.
Hoo boy! I got home rather late last night, but still planned to post our next sonnet. However, that first quatrain up there? Is not something my tired brain could parse at midnight. Although, I have to say, reading it again in the light of day today, it's not much better. I am at a loss with that one, especially Lines 3-4.

I had better luck with the rest of the sonnet. I think our narrator is once again heaping praise on his muse, saying that anyone who writes of his lover cannot exaggerate his many assets, but only make them seem less wonderful than they are.

But then, what of that final couplet? Do I detect a hint of bitterness or jealousy from our narrator? (It wouldn't be the first time.) He almost seems disapproving of his lover's eagerness to absorb all this praise from all comers, so to speak. Being fond on praise, which makes your praises worse is the line that gives me that vibe.

Then again, it's entirely possible my brain was so twisted by that first quatrain that I've completely misread the whole blasted thing!

Edited: Sep 18, 2012, 11:21pm Top

Our numbering has gone off a bit; this is no. 84.

About that first quatrain - here's what one of my sources says: "Lines 1 - 4 are ambiguous, complex, opaque and elusive all at the same time." Well said. In fact, I can (as usual) do no better than to recommend this close reading of number 84 from my chiefest and most useful source. However, I'll do my best in this thread, as always.

First Quatrain
Those first two lines are tough for me. I might read them as "who says the most (about you)? Indeed, which (person) can say more than this high praise, that only you are you."

Then we get into some Elizabethan vocabulary - I know that immured means "walled up," and I'd guess that conf'ne might be "confine," which as a noun would mean something like territory, place of confinement, or prison. So - in whose storage place is the walled-up supply which could create another copy of you?"

So, the owner of this storage place is either the youth (who presumably has the genetic material to make lots of little youths), OR the rival poet, who is being challenged to make a real literary representation of the youth. Hmmm?

Second Quatrain
"It's a pretty pitiful writer who can't glorify his subject, at least a little. But anyone that writes about you, if he can only describe you, he dignifies his story."

Third Quatrain
"If he just copies what is written in your being (and manages not to ruin it), then such a written replica could make his art famous and his style admired everywhere."

Take it home, Will
"But you add a curse to your beauty by foolishly and weakly indulging those who praise you" (and I'll let my source take it from here) "which ensures that praise levelled at you is artificial and corrupt."

Funny how much less interesting it is once you turn it into clunky modern prose, huh? Still, it's nice to go back to the original understanding it.

Sep 18, 2012, 10:44pm Top

Whoops, thanks for pointing out my numbering error, Cynara. I've gone back and corrected it.

I'm glad it wasn't just my tired brain that found the beginning of this one — what was the quote? — "ambiguous, complex, opaque and elusive all at the same time."

Your rephrasing definitely helped me understand it better when I went back to the original. In fact, everything except that first quatrain makes a lot more sense now.

I still think there's a touch of disapproval in that final couplet. Will seems to feel that it's unseemly for the youth to be so flattered by the flattery of others.

Edited: Sep 19, 2012, 10:48pm Top

Late, late, late! I'm always running late these days. Without further delay, here's the real Sonnet 85:
My tongue-tied muse in manners holds her still,
While comments of your praise, richly compiled,
Reserve their character with golden quill
And precious phrase by all the muses filed.
I think good thoughts, whilst other write good words,
And like unlettered clerk still cry “Amen”
To every hymn that able spirit affords,
In polished form of well-refinèd pen.
Hearing you praised, I say “'Tis so, ’tis true,”
And to the most of praise add something more;
But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.
    Then others for the breath of words respect,
    Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.
A little less opaque with this one, thankfully, though I still had to read it through several times. The narrator seems to be saying that he reads and listens to all the praise offered to his beloved by others, and agrees with it all but only in his own mind. The final couplet seems to say that beloved should value our narrator's silent praise more than the over-the-top praise of others, because they are all talk and our narrator is all action (hey ho!).

I like the final quatrain a lot: Hearing you praised, I say “'Tis so, ’tis true,” / And to the most of praise add something more; / But that is in my thought, whose love to you, / Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.

What do we think of this one? Do we like it?

Sep 20, 2012, 8:01am Top

It's one of the few I actually do like! It seems more straightforward than others.

Sep 20, 2012, 9:02am Top

It is more straightforward, Morphy! I think I also like it because I share with Will the belief that actions speak louder than words. :)

Sep 20, 2012, 4:58pm Top

Elegantly formal. A contrast.

Sep 21, 2012, 7:11am Top

One could also take "speaking in effect" to mean that he believes his dumb thoughts are just about the same thing as speaking. (See the listing on "effect" here: http://www.shakespeareswords.com/Glossary?let=e. I see a stronger meaning for implied action than actual physical action.)

Sep 21, 2012, 2:26pm Top

Hmm, I can see that possibility now that you've pointed it out. I'll have to think on it some more before I decide which I prefer.

Sep 24, 2012, 10:08pm Top

Another late-night posting from me. Sonnet 86 is our next stop:
Was it the proud full sail of his great verse,
Bound for the prize of all too precious you,
That did my ripe thoughts in my brain inhearse,
Making their tomb the womb wherein they grew?
Was it his spirit, by spirits taught to write
Above a mortal pitch, that struck me dead?
No, neither he, nor his compeers by night
Giving him aid, my verse astonishèd.
He, nor that affable familiar ghost
Which nightly gulls him with intelligence,
As victors of my silence cannot boast.
I was not sick of any fear from thence;
    But when your countenance filled up his line,
    Then lacked I matter, that enfeebled mine.
Hmm, another post about the rival for his muse's affections. Here, the narrator seems to be saying that if his recent poetic praises of the youth seem lukewarm and lacking, it is not because his rival's poetry is so much superior, or that he is intimidated by his rival. It's just that the rival has said all that can be said about the youth's many fine attributes.

Or, I think that's what it means. I'll look forward to hearing some alternate readings, if there are any. In the meantime, a couple of thoughts:
* That second line, Bound for the prize of all too precious you seems awfully familiar. I don't know if it's one of those lines that has transcended its sonnet home and become a ubiquitous quotation, or if it itself is a quotation of some other famous line.
* Some unusual vocabulary words for me in this one: 'inhearse' and 'compeers' are the two that stand out for me. I think I've got the gist from the context of compeers — a longer version of what we know just call peers, perhaps? The other I'm not so sure about.

What do we think of this one?

Sep 25, 2012, 11:12pm Top

I think he's back to talking about his silence (yeah, I know). His brain is both the womb and tomb of his thoughts, so they're never getting out there.

I try not to quote big indigestible chunks, but this passage is so good I can't help it:

"This is the last of the group of sonnets dealing with the threat of a rival poet taking over the dominant position of affection that the writer claims to enjoy in the beloved's eyes. The rival poet here is given the credit of composing bombastic verse which conceivably could cow other poets into submission, rather like a fleet in full sail (the armada?) bearing down on a seemingly defenceless enemy. The image may be taken either way, as one of splendour and magnificence, or one of empty boast and hollow show which leads to failure. Specific details are then given of how the rival poet relies on supernatural help from voices and spirits which communicate with him by night, and ghostly figures which prompt him. It is difficult not to read an undertone of ridicule into this description, for Shakespeare's attitude to his own versification is often very pedestrian and matter of fact. He disingenuously admits the superiority of his rival's verses, at the same time undermining that superiority by writing a sonnet which is as good as that of any of his contemporaries."

I love the idea of a satiric element here.

inherse: bury, place in a coffin
compeer (when a noun): companion, associate, fellow

And finally: "it is only when his “countinance,” both his ‘face’ and his ‘patronage’ (“countinance” was a euphemism for patronage) either ‘filled up’ or ‘polished’ (“fild”) the rival poet’s muse or subject matter (“line”), that the poet’s attempts to write verse were found wanting: “Then lackt I matter, that infeebled mine.”"

Whew. I'm off to bed. Big day.

Sep 26, 2012, 8:19pm Top

Ah, that bit about countenance really clarified something that was puzzling me! And I agree with your big quote — I definitely thought he was being a big disingenuous with his "oh, my poetry not good enough to do justice to your amazingness" bit.

I'll be back in a jif with Sonnet 87.

Sep 26, 2012, 8:32pm Top

Looking forward to it!

Sep 26, 2012, 8:41pm Top

Where will Sonnet 87 take us? Let's see:
Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate.
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting,
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
    Thus have I had thee as a dream doth flatter:
    In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.
OK, we're back to "I'm not worthy!" territory, but I have to say this one is rather entertaining. "You're too good for me, and I know you know it. I've only loved you because you've let me; you only loved me at first because you didn't realize how much better than me you really were. In my dreams I am a king and thus your equal, but when I wake up I realize I'm just a schmuck with a pen."

Or, you know, words to that effect. :-)

Despite my liking of this one, there are a few lines that are completely mysterious to me. I'll list them below, and see if Cynara or anyone else have some bright ideas:

And so my patent back again is swerving

So thy great gift, upon misprision growing / Comes home again, on better judgment making.

Mysterious! But not enough to obscure the meaning of the sonnet, thankfully.

Edited: Sep 26, 2012, 10:48pm Top

Gerund madness! That's my only problem with this. I really love the opening of this poem, but as I hit line six or seven the constant "ing"-ing gets to me. The final couplet is wistfulness itself, and makes me think of A Midsummer Night's Dream, or the Tempest, with their dreams and misleading magic.

but when I wake up
You are hilarious.

In line 4, "determinate" means something like "terminated."

Oh my yes, what's up with that swerving patent?
One idea: "the “pattent,” the licence or title to sole possession of a piece of property to the exclusion of others {my emphasis}, the youth, has been forfeited back to the youth (“back again is sweruing”).
A “pattent” (from patere = to lie open, hence an opening) is used elsewhere by Shakespeare sexually (see MND 1.1.81, “Ere I will yeeld my virgin Patent vp / Vnto his Lordship”).

Misprison was a legal term referring to a misjudgement or neglect; it's only because of misprison that the youth gave the great gift of his regard to the poet.

Again, we're back with our question, i.e. "the speaker of the sonnets: hopeless doormat or passive-aggressive satiric genius?" The financial language (as one of my sources points out) suggests that the youth is being more than a little calculating and cynical, and has figured out that he can court more influential people than our poor poet.

Next up: the poet foresees the day when the youth will act like a big jerk.

Sep 26, 2012, 11:26pm Top

This one certainly is gerund-tastic, that's for sure! Those definitions surely do help. Although, I can't help thinking that 'determinate' should mean the opposite of 'terminate' — de-terminate, get it? Sigh.

The eternal question: doormat or smartass? I know which one I'm rooting for, and you can probably guess. :-)

Oooh, a teaser! I can't wait until tomorrow to see what's up in No. 88. But I will — wait, that is.

Edited: Sep 27, 2012, 12:59pm Top

Also; since discovering the word "misprison," I keep thinking of Oscar Wilde's "Miss Prism," whose misjudgement and neglect turn out to have set the whole plot of The Importance of Being Earnest in motion.

Sep 27, 2012, 7:02pm Top

NB: I won't be around on Friday afternoon, but feel free to post anyway! I'll get to it when I'm back.

Sep 29, 2012, 12:48pm Top

Good catch on Earnest. One of the lovelier sonnets, 87. Both whiner and cutting irony.

Oct 1, 2012, 9:10pm Top

Do we remember Cynara's foreshadowing of Sonnet 88? Next up: the poet foresees the day when the youth will act like a big jerk. Whatever could she mean? Let's find out!
When thou shalt be disposed to set me light
And place my merit in the eye of scorn,
Upon thy side against myself I’ll fight,
And prove thee virtuous, though thou art forsworn.
With mine own weakness being best acquainted,
Upon thy part I can set down a story
Of faults concealed, wherein I am attainted,
That thou in losing me shalt win much glory.
And I by this will be a gainer too,
For bending all my loving thoughts on thee,
The injuries that to myself I do,
Doing thee vantage, double vantage me.
    Such is my love, to thee I so belong,
    That for thy right myself will bear all wrong.
Oh for crying out loud, Will! You will take the side of a petulant jerk who breaks your heart, against your own self-interest? Are you a man or a mouse? Where's that stiff upper lip you Brits are so famous for? (Wait ... maybe they are not famous for that in your time? But if they all acted like you, they never would have been!)

Ahem. As you can see, I have lost a bit of patience with the old "you're cool, I'm drool" song and dance. I'm at the point of hoping that fair youth dumps ol' Will soon so I don't have to read anymore of these self-flagellating sonnets.

I'm sure the rest of you won't overreact as badly as I have, and will point out to me all the virtues of No. 88. Go ahead, hit me with your best shot!

Oct 1, 2012, 9:20pm Top

No argument here. Though I must say that there's a lovely little flick of the knife in "That thou in losing me shalt win much glory."

Oct 1, 2012, 9:51pm Top

True. It's just a darn shame we'll never know what the youth's reaction was to this passive-aggressive poetic prattle. Did it bind him tighter, or drive him farther away?

Oct 2, 2012, 8:00am Top

Maybe they weren't actually sent to anyone, like those letters you write when you're furious with someone.

Oct 2, 2012, 8:54am Top

Ah! That's certainly possible. But surely he would have read them at some point? I've lost the thread of when the sonnets were first published — how long after they were written.

Oct 2, 2012, 9:33am Top

We don't really know. Some of them were definitely written 5-10 years before they whole series was published, and people try to date them based on similarities with his plays.

I'm also trying to keep my mind open to the possibility that the youth was a fictitious creation, but what poet would have written so many whiny sonnets to a fantasy man?

Oct 2, 2012, 10:14am Top

I agree that it seems unlikely that the youth was fictitious, but I'd almost rather believe that than that Shakespeare abased himself so thoroughly again and again, even if it is just poetic license.

Oct 2, 2012, 8:28pm Top

Has Will wised up in Sonnet 89, or is he still playing the doormat? There's only one way to find out:
Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offense.
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defense.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I’ll myself disgrace, knowing thy will;
I will acquaintance strangle and look strange,
Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue
Thy sweet belovèd name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
    For thee against myself I’ll vow debate,
    For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate.
Still playing the doormat? Oh, yeah.

And yet, I cannot entirely dislike this one. It has a certain grace to its abject misery. I like the way he contrast-rhymes (I'm quite sure that's not the technical term) offense and defense at the ends of Lines 2 and 4. And the cleverness of Line 3: Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt, which seems like a clever play on the multiple meanings of 'halt' — stop, yes certainly, but also crippled or in other words, lame. (And I'm not even going to get into the great fun that reading that line in a faux Valley Girl voice can be: "Dude, you are so, like, lame!"

More wordplay in Line 8: I will acquaintance strangle and look strange — the similarity of strangle and strange in the same line.

That last line's a heartbreak, though, isn't it? For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate. Even when it's myself. Sniffle sniffle.

Oct 2, 2012, 9:29pm Top

Mmm. I like "...Be absent from thy walks, and in my tongue/ Thy sweet belovèd name no more shall dwell". There's something appealingly rough about this one; I think it's the contrast of the unpretty words like "strangle" with the graceful passages you mention.

Oct 2, 2012, 9:56pm Top

Lots of contrasts throughout, that's for sure. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

Oct 4, 2012, 10:07am Top

I apologize for my absence last night in the thread. I ended up calling in sick yesterday morning and spending the whole day in bed. I'm feeling much better today, though, so I'll be back with a new sonnet this afternoon or tonight.

Oct 4, 2012, 1:08pm Top

Feel better! I've been trying to get lots of rest lately, too.

Oct 4, 2012, 7:35pm Top

I'm back and ready for Sonnet 90. Read along with me, won't you?
Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now,
Now while the world is bent my deeds to cross;
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah, do not, when my heart hath ’scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe.
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite
But in the onset come; so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
    And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
    Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.
"If you're leaving me, leave now. Don't string me along with a series of small heartbreaks; rip the band-aid off now and get it over with. And once you leave, don't ever come back and make me hope, only to be heartbroken all over again when you leave."

That's my extremely rough translation of this one. I don't have a lot of deep thoughts here, but there are a couple of lines I really like:

* Then hate me when thou wilt, if ever, now
* Give not a windy night a rainy morrow, / To linger out a purposed overthrow.
* If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last, / When other petty griefs have done their spite

Oct 4, 2012, 9:20pm Top

Yeah, that's exactly it. I quite like this one, once I'm past the hair-tossing brow-clutching opening line "Then hate me when thou wilt"! I know you like it, but my favourites are later on - the ones you mentioned.

Also: a change here, to military metaphors, and weather.

Oct 4, 2012, 10:27pm Top

once I'm past the hair-tossing brow-clutching opening line
Heh. I like that description.

One of the things that makes this one so likable is that it is such a common sentiment, right? "If you're going, go now!" Who hasn't cried that during a breakup fight? If I didn't have this stupid headache tonight, I'm sure I could find some lyrics to further support my thesis that Will was really the first country-music songwriter.

Oct 5, 2012, 3:52pm Top

I'm out this evening, but if you feel up to posting, I can reply over the weekend!

Oct 6, 2012, 9:22am Top

Well, I didn't get a post up last night, but it's a beautful sunny Saturday morning here in Iowa. Here's Sonnet 91 for our leisurely weekend perusal:
Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,
Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,
Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,
Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse;
And every humor hath his adjunct pleasure,
Wherein it finds a joy above the rest.
But these particulars are not my measure;
All these I better in one general best.
Thy love is better than high birth to me,
Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost,
Of more delight than hawks or horses be;
And having thee, of all men’s pride I boast;
    Wretched in this alone, that thou mayst take
    All this away, and me most wretched make.
Love is better and more valuable than all the riches in the world. That's our theme today, it seems.

I like that first quatrain, with its repeated 'some' and its litany of all the things that men take pride in — who their family is, what they can do, how much money they have, how strong they are, the clothes they wear, their big-boy toys (I imagine a 21st century Shakespeare would replace hawks, hounds and horses with giant HD televisions, fancy sports cars, and power tools).

But our besotted narrator cares not at all for these worldly things. Only give him the devotion of his true love and he is happy. Thy love is better than high birth to me seems like it would have been a particularly powerful line back in Will's day, when so much of who you were allowed to be was tied up in who your parents were.

A nice sonnet for a Saturday, I think. I'm looking forward to what everyone else thinks about this one.

Oct 6, 2012, 7:11pm Top

Awww, I memorized this one for my husband back when we were dating. I'm quite fond of it, obviously.

This one has a measured, swelling progression, which peaks at the final quatrain with "Thy love is better than high birth to me, /Richer than wealth, prouder than garments' cost" but which dwindles down at the end with a breath of worry in the double use of "wretched." It's heavily end-stopped, which underlines (for me, anyway) the feeling of everything being in its right place, until that final couplet.

Oct 6, 2012, 10:02pm Top

Awww, indeed. That is just so sweet, Cynara!

Nice call on the end-stopping. It's as if he has his emotions under control until he gets to the point where he thinks about losing his beloved, and then he rushes through it with a breathless horror. Lovely catch!

Oct 6, 2012, 10:05pm Top

Oh, and the timing is serendipitous; it's our fifth wedding anniversary today!

Yeah, it's like the bottom falls out of the iambic pentameter when he remembers that his beloved isn't likely to stick around.

Oct 6, 2012, 10:06pm Top

Well, happy anniversary to you and Mr. Cynara! I hope you did something fun and awesome to celebrate.

Oct 6, 2012, 10:18pm Top

Ja; a night out at a hotel, a massage today, and afternoon tea. Very, very relaxing. Mr. Cynara sends his thanks. :-)

Oct 7, 2012, 11:48pm Top

I'm posting Sonnet 92 tonight because I have a meeting tomorrow night and wouldn't be able to post until late. This will give Cynara and everyone else plenty of time to ponder and discuss while I am gone. :-)
But do thy worst to steal thyself away,
For term of life thou art assurèd mine,
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
For it depends upon that love of thine.
Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs,
When in the least of them my life hath end.
I see a better state to me belongs
Than that which on thy humor doth depend.
Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O what a happy title do I find,
Happy to have thy love, happy to die!
    But what’s so blessèd-fair that fears no blot?
    Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.
Well, this is a weird little poem, isn't it? It starts out in familiar territory — I will live only as long as I have your love and when you stop loving me I will be happy to die — and manages to sound rather jaunty at the prospect. And then that final couplet brought me up short, and made me think that our narrator is doing a bit of 'whistling past the graveyard' — he knows or strongly suspects that all is not well in his little world.

Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not. Do we think he is saying that ignorance is bliss? He doesn't want to know if his lover is untrue? Or is he simply saying out loud what he suspects in his heart — that the infidelity is already in progress, and it can only play out to its inevitable heartbreaking end.

This one has kept me pondering quite a bit, which is a wonderful thing for a poem to do. I'm looking forward to hearing some other viewpoints.

Oct 8, 2012, 1:36pm Top

It's an odd mood for the poet, isn't it? It's almost like he means it, for once.

Oct 8, 2012, 7:11pm Top

"How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar." - Trina Pallus

Oct 8, 2012, 9:25pm Top

This is the first one that - despite its protestations that the poet will immediately die upon losing the youth - sounds a bit like he might be ready to move on.

Oct 9, 2012, 7:10pm Top

Ready to move on? From your lips to Will's ears, Cynara! We can only hope ...

Oct 9, 2012, 7:17pm Top

Let's see if we're moving on just yet, in Sonnet 93:
So shall I live, supposing thou art true,
Like a deceived husband; so love’s face
May still seem love to me, though altered new:
Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place.
For there can live no hatred in thine eye,
Therefore in that I cannot know thy change.
In many’s looks, the false heart’s history
Is writ in moods and frowns and wrinkles strange,
But heav'n in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate'er thy thoughts or thy heart’s workings be,
Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell.
    How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,
    If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show.
Oh, yeah. The bloom is definitely off the rose, to borrow a turn of phrase.

* So shall I live ... like a deceived husband
* Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place.
* In many's looks, the false heart's history / Is writ in moods and frowns and wrinkles strange
* If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show.

Yeah, I'd say Will's pretty close to chucking the whole relationship in the dustbin of history. The whole sonnet is basically a summing up of his lover's infidelity, but he can't even muster either outrage or heartbreak in his tone. It all sounds so matter-of-fact to me somehow.

I guess over the course of 93 sonnets he's finally come to terms with the fickle nature of his lover's devotion?

Oct 9, 2012, 10:34pm Top

It's like he just can't figure out how someone so pretty can be so false.

Oct 10, 2012, 9:31pm Top

Are we ready for Sonnet 94?
They that have pow'r to hurt, and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who moving others are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven’s graces,
And husband nature’s riches from expense.
They are the lords and owners of their faces;
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flow'r is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die.
But if that flow'r with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity.
    For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
    Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
That last line packs quite a punch, doesn't it? Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. It seems our narrator is beginning to realize that loving the lovely is not so lovely when the lovely-looking are not lovely-acting.

Do we think he's talking about himself in that first quatrain? They that have pow'r to hurt, and will do none ... They rightly do inherit heaven's graces seems a rather pointed commentary of ... something?

Oct 11, 2012, 10:41pm Top

Where did the day go? I went to bed early last night, but meant to post early.

That is the best driving-the-nail-home couplet we've seen in ages, isn't it? And it's a great counterpoint to the rather elegant, complicated metaphors he's been weaving in the previous quatrains.

I'd guess he's giving the youth some pointed advice rather than referring to himself, but who knows?

Oct 11, 2012, 10:45pm Top

Yes, the only thing missing from that final couplet is a "BOOM!" at the end.

Oct 11, 2012, 10:46pm Top

I'd guess that originally "none" sounded like "stone." The final -y in "dignity" would have rhymed with "die," too.

Oct 11, 2012, 10:47pm Top

That's right! I said weeds! BOOM!

Edited: Oct 15, 2012, 8:32pm Top

I'm going to post Sonnet 96 in just a moment, but I think it's time for a new thread.

ETA: I was jumping the gun -- we are only up to Sonnet 95, so that's the one you'll find at the top of the new thread.

Edited: Aug 6, 2013, 7:31pm Top

>113 rosalita: - 121 from this Part (the Third) also

Just happened upon this delightful thread today, and although I'm not yet up to sonnet 73 in the thread, I jumped to it because it is my favorite. I have a slightly different interpretation to offer.

Even though most--but not all--people died much younger in those days, the sonnet struck me as being about that short portion of life "just before" dying, which my father went through long ago. When I read it, I couldn't get over how Shakespeare--in his great humanity--had experienced and had been able to write about this short time period just before death. He uses three metaphors to describe "Death's first self": the branches, almost denuded of leaves in the cold after the birds have departed, the brief remaining twilight for a minute or two AFTER the sun has set, and the last glowing embers of a fire that has "gone out".

I wouldn't have interpreted the sonnet this way if I hadn't witnessed this particular kind of death. And the closing couplet seemed to refer to his reaching out to my mother with what consciousness remained even more so during those last days.

I found the sonnet deeply consoling, read this way.

Aug 6, 2013, 9:44pm Top

Diane, I ended up replying to your post on the fifth thread, but now I'm feeling I should have put it here for continuity's sake. So I'll just repeat it:

Diane, how lovely that you have stumbled on this old thread, which Cynara and I had so much fun with whilst exploring the sonnets! I have to say, I really love your interpretation of Sonnet 73 as spotlighting that time of life just before someone dies. I seem to recall in my initial reading having a vague thought along those lines especially in connection with the lines talking about the twilight of the day just before full dark falls, but I didn't take it any further in my mind. What a lovely memory you have your father's final days as well; I can see why this is your favorite sonnet with so much personal meaning packed into it.

I hope you will plug along with the rest of the thread, and please don't be shy about posting your thoughts as you go. I welcome any chance to re-visit my old friend Will, especially when there are such thoughtful new shades of meaning to uncover!

Aug 7, 2013, 11:41am Top

What a treat to reread #73, which I love all the more for not having seen it in almost a year. God, it's beautiful.

I like your picking out of the three images Will uses, and I think they're all wonderful - rich, evocative, and holding that small strangeness that makes poetry new. I know I'll read this poem a different way when I've lost more people - the best works catch you in different ways at different eras of your life.

Thanks for bringing us back to this thread, Diane, and I'd also love to hear your ideas as you go.

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