My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
Sonnets 20 and 21 reasserted the relationship between Nature (the sovereign
mistress), the Mistress as Nature’s direct representative, the Master Mistress
as the adolescent youth derived from the Mistress, and the Poet as the mature
male who has reconciled his youth with the Mistress and appreciates the
logic of truth and beauty. The Poet accentuates the natural qualities of the
Master Mistress because any youth derives from Nature through the Mistress
and hence exhibits both feminine and masculine traits.
So long as youth and thou are of one date,
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee,
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me,
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O therefore love be of thy self so wary,
As I not for my self, but for thee will,
Bearing thy heart which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill,
Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain,
Thou gav’st me thine not to give back again.
In sonnet 22 the Poet considers the logical implications of his own youth.
His image in the 'glass' (mirror) will not grow 'old' (22.1) since he and the
youth are logically the same person. They share the same or 'one (birth)
date' (22.2). When the Poet sees 'time's furrows' in his brow he recognises
that 'death' (22.4) will soon end his days. But, just as the youth's heart is
within the Poet, the external beauty of the youth is the internal 'raiment'
of the Poet's once youthful 'heart' (22.6). Their 'hearts' are one and the same
because the youth is logically a persona of the Poet.
The aging Poet carries within him the ‘heart’ he had when young and
so the effects of its youthful potential. It is the same heart because it represents
the ‘love’ or increase that is common to them both. The ‘heart’ lives
in the youth’s ‘breast’ and the Poet’s ‘breast’ (22.7). The Poet’s logic precisely
characterises the relation between the external world of the senses and his
internal world of understanding.
The Poet advises the youth to be ‘wary’ (22.9) of misunderstanding the
nature of his ‘love’. The Poet cares not for ‘my self ’ but for the potential of
youth. He ‘bears’ the youth’s ‘heart’, respectful that the ‘heart’ needs to be
‘nursed’warily so that it does not ‘fare ill’ from the adolescent tendency to
selfishness (22.12). The couplet confirms that the Poet’s ‘love’ for the ‘youth’
is based in the interconnectedness of their ‘hearts’. ‘Youth’ is the logical
precondition for the poetry that will die if the youth does not appreciate
the consequences of the Poet being ‘slain’ before the logical potential of the
youth’s heart is realised through increase.
The youth as a persona represents both the Poet’s own youthful experiences
and the older Poet’s idealistic memories. As a ‘babe’ he characterises
the gap between the Poet’s mature poetry and the immature poetry of those
unable to express the mythic status of ‘love’. Sonnet 22 relates the logic of
the Poet’s experience of the external world to the capacity he has to understand
the external world through the operations of his mind. The double
reading, built so logically into the Sonnets, gives them their capacity to evoke
credibly the multiplicity and reflexivity of understanding.
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
In sonnets 20/21, the Poet named the youth as Master Mistress and further
delineated the youth’s relationship to Nature, the Mistress, and the logic of
increase and truth and beauty. Then in sonnet 22 he articulated the dynamic
of persons and personae. The elementary logic of these two moves
summarises Shakespeare’s philosophy. The three sonnets correctly characterise
the logical relation between the external world and the internal world,
or the body and the mind.
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart;
So I for fear of trust, forget to say,
The perfect ceremony of love's right,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'er-charged with burthen of mine own love's might:
O let my books be then the eloquence,
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
O learn to read what silent love hath writ,
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.
Then, in sonnet 23, as in sonnets 15 to 19, the Poet acknowledges the
logical status of his writing in relation to the ‘love’ that forms its content.
He addresses the relationship between his ‘love’ and the ‘dumb’ eloquence
of ‘books’. The Poet compares himself either to ‘an unperfect actor on the
stage’ whose fear foils his ability to act a ‘part’ (23.2), or to ‘some fierce thing’
whose excessive rage ‘weakens (its) own ‘heart’ (23.4). In his fear the Poet
forgets to ‘say’ the ‘perfect ceremony of love’s right’ (23.6). His ‘own love’s
strength’ decays because it is ‘overcharged’ with the ‘might’ of his ‘love’
The Poet’s love derives from his relationship to Nature. The whole set
with its two sequences, and the argument of the 14 increase sonnets, is
arranged to present the physical facts of Nature, which logically cannot be
reproduced in words or said. They can only be ‘acted’ out. So the Poet’s
punning erotic references to his ‘thing’ (23.3), whose strength, abundance
and overcharged ‘burthen’ weakens or decays, logically recognises that the
process of writing is not a sex act.
The Poet’s ‘books’, as ‘dumb presagers’ (23.10) for Nature and increase,
have the logical role of ‘eloquently’ expressing with words their erotic logic.
They are nonsexual things ‘who plead’ (23.11) for the ‘speaking breast’ or
express the logic of the Poet’s sexual organs. Because the penis is part of the
physical process, books cannot be ‘more than’ the sexual ‘tongue that more
hath more expressed’ (23.12). The Poet’s verse is erotic because it acknowledges
the logical priority of the sexual over anything ‘said’ or written in
In the couplet the Poet implores the youth to ‘learn to read what silent
love has writ’. The sexual dynamic in Nature is the silent basis for the logic
of ‘reading’. To ‘hear’ such reading is possible only for those whose ‘eyes’
(both sexual and visual) ‘belong’ or appreciate the point of ‘love’s fine wit’.
‘Wit’, as a sexual reference to the penis and an erotic reference to the logical
status of ‘books’, captures the sexual/erotic basis of any expression in words.
Mine eye hath played the painter and hath steeld,
By reiterating the logic of his philosophy in the first few sonnets of the truth
and beauty sequence to the Master Mistress (sonnets 20 to 23), the Poet
prepares the reader for a detailed examination of the relationship between
truth and beauty and ‘thine eyes’ introduced in sonnet 14. There the Poet
states that it is from ‘thine eyes’ he derives his ‘knowledge’ and his ‘art’, and
so his truth and beauty. It is from the ‘eyes’, the ‘constant stars’, that the Poet
derives understanding and not from the ‘stars’ in ‘heaven’.
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart,
My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,
And perspective it is best Painter's art.
For through the Painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true Image pictur'd lies,
Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes:
Now see what good-turns eyes for eies have done,
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the Sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee.
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.
Appropriately, sonnet 24 is based on the image of the ‘eyes’. From ‘mine
eye’ in line 1 to the ‘cunning’ eyes of the couplet, the eyes provide the logical
means for appreciating the dynamic of truth and beauty. The Poet’s eye has
painted or inscribed the sensory form of the youth on the ‘table’or notebook
of his heart (24.1-2). The Poet’s body is the ‘frame’ that holds the sensory
input within the logical ‘perspective’ of the eyes (24.4). It is through the
eyes (the Painter) that their skill at forming a ‘true Image’ in the Poet’s
‘bosom’ allows the image to be ‘hanging still’ (24.7). The youth, as the
persona of the Poet’s youthful days, still ‘hangs’ in the ‘table’ of his ‘heart’.
The Poet’s ‘shop’ has its windows ‘glazed with ‘thine eyes’ (24.8), because
the relation between external form and internal image is transacted through
the glazing of the eyes.
It is through the ‘eyes’ that the Poet sees into the ‘heart’ of the youth.
The Poet can see his image inscribed on the youth’s heart. The youth
(identified Apollo-like with the ‘Sun’) can also ‘peep’ (24.12) into the Poet’s
eyes or ‘windows’ to see his image. This two-way process is evoked in the
image of ‘eyes for eies’ (24.9). It anticipates the ‘eye I eyed’ from sonnet 104.
The ‘I’, or the sense of true self or individual worth, is derived from the
‘eyes’ by the skillful ‘Painter’ (24.5).
Although the ‘eyes’ are the direct means of assessing truth and beauty,
they still depend on the ‘skill’ of the Poet or youth to identify the ‘true image
pictured’ (24.6) in the heart. So the couplet warns that those who ‘draw but
what they see’, who do not look deeply into the eyes of another, will ‘know
not the heart’. Appearances are deceiving for the person who has not learnt
the ‘skill’ of penetrating beyond the surface into the ‘eyes’ and ‘heart’ of
The theme of the ‘eyes’ and/or ‘stars’ continues with the same force in
sonnets 24 to 33. Ignorance of the significance of the theme with its logical
relation back to sonnet 14 has caused editors to make major changes to
meanings of words in modern editions.
Let those who are in favor with their stars,
Sonnet 25, with its reference to the ‘stars’ and the ‘sun’s eye’, continues the
theme of sonnet 24. Both sonnets refer back to sonnet 14 which dismissed
the stars as the source of knowledge or love in favour of the youth’s eyes.
In a litany of complaint, the three quatrains of sonnet 25 unite to dismiss
those who find ‘favour’ in the ‘stars’ above. Rejected are those who boast
of ‘public honour’ and ‘proud titles’ (25.2), or who become the favourites
of ‘Princes’ (25.5), or who achieve fame as ‘warriors’ (25.9). Their fate is
to have their fame ‘razed’ from the ‘book of honour’ (25.12) by having their
‘pride buried’ and so lost to posterity.
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I whom fortune of such triumph bars
Unlooked for joy in that I honour most;
Great Princes' favorites their fair leaves spread,
But as the Marigold at the un's ye,
And in them-selves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for worth,
After a thousand victories once foiled,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled:
Then happy I that love and am beloved
Where I may not remove, nor be removed.
The Poet suggests that his good ‘fortune’ (25.3) has kept him from the
hollow ‘triumph’ of ‘favour’ or ‘favorites’ (25.1,5) or the false expectations
of immortality. His happiness is founded in the ‘unlooked for joy’ in what
he ‘honours most’ (25.4). The ‘unlooked for joy’ is evident in the natural
logic of life. The Poet has aligned his relationship to the youth, or to those
youthful aspects of himself, with the forces of life. The youth’s prospects for
living a meaningful life, to write meaningful poetry and to experience
meaningful love, are conditional on the understanding presented in the
arguments of sonnets 1 to 19.
The couplet rejoices in the understanding sonnet 14 argues is necessary
for ‘truth and beauty’ or the possibility of ‘love’. The forces of life should
not be ignored or be used to personal advantage. The couplet expresses the
happiness of being liberated from the egotistical expectations of ‘pride’. It
generates a form of ‘love’ based on a logical appreciation of the dynamic of
In sonnets 20/21, the Poet was unequivocal that his love for the youth
is based on a regard for the natural logic of life. He defined the basis on
which he accepts the ‘love’ of the youth when he said, ‘mine be thy love,
and thy love’s use their (women’s) treasure’ (20.14). The Poet cannot be
‘removed’, nor can he ‘remove’ the youth, because their relationship is based
in their logical relation to Nature.
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Every sonnet commented on in this volume articulates an aspect of the
philosophy of the whole set of 154 sonnets. While some academic interest
can be gained from isolating individual sonnets, what they mean and how
they work depends on understanding the meaning of the whole set. For 400
years editors with a philosophy at odds with Shakespeare’s natural logic have
made changes to crucial words in the original edition of 1609. Sonnet 26
contains one of the more significant changes.
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit;
To thee I send this written ambassage
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it;
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul's thought (all naked) will bestow it:
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tottered loving,
To show me worthy of their sweet respect,
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.
To make sonnet 26 conform to their vision of Shakespeare’s dutiful
homage to a real life ‘Lord’, the editors change the ‘their’ in line 12 to ‘thy’.
For such editors sonnet 26 reads as homage paid by Shakespeare to an
acquaintance who was the ‘Lord of his love’ (26.1). But the Poet is being
ironical when says he puts the ‘duty’ he owes the ‘Lord’ before his own ‘wit’,
or ability to think (26.4). He mocks those who look to a ‘Lord’, for ‘some
good conceit’ from ‘thy soul’s thought’ (26.8) to improve his own poor ‘wit’
or poetry and be worthy of ‘respect (26.12).
When the sonnet is read in the context of the Sonnet philosophy, which
prioritises Nature over gods imagined by men and the female over the male,
the references to ‘Lord’, ‘vassalage’, ‘duty’, ‘soul’, and ‘star’ reveal Shakespeare’s
intended irony. In mocking the over idealistic youth in sonnet 26,
Shakespeare also mocks biblical religions in which the ‘Lord’ demands
‘vassalage’. The Poet offers his poem to the Lord without showing his ‘wit’ or
penis because, according to Christian dogma, increase is inferior to the
celibacy of the Lord. He suggests that ‘a wit so poor as mine’ may make the
‘good conceits…in thy soul’s thought’ seem ‘bare’ or exposed for their
The imaginary ‘soul’ in the Sonnets is accessed by way of the ‘eyes’
through the ‘heart’. Because the eyes are the ‘constant stars’ (14.10), the
reference to ‘whatsoever star’ (26.9) recalls the image of the Poet looking
into the youth’s eyes for judgment and knowledge. Only when the youth’s
eyes engage with the Poet’s will ‘apparel’ be put on ‘my tottered loving’
(26.11). Because the eyes are the source of truth and beauty, the Poet looks
into the youth’s eyes to see if he is ‘worthy of their sweet respect’.
The deep irony of sonnet 26 anticipates the editors’ tendency to read
into the sonnet a real life ‘Lord’to whom Shakespeare pays homage. Because
the editors see only a biographical relationship between Shakespeare and the
‘Lord’, they change the word ‘their’ in line 12 to ‘thy’ in most editions. They
are ignorant of the significance of the eyes in sonnet 14 for understanding
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired,
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body's work's expired.
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eye-lids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see.
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents their shadow to my sightless view,
Which like a jewel (hung in ghastly night)
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for my self, no quiet find.
How can I then return in happy plight
Comment on Sonnets 27 & 28
That am debarred the benefit of rest?
When day's oppression is not eased by night,
But day by night and night by day oppressed.
And each (though enemies to either's reign)
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still farther off from thee.
I tell the Day to please him thou art bright,
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart complexioned night,
When sparkling stars twire not thou guil'st th'even.
But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief 's length seem stronger.
Once Shakespeare identifies the elements in his philosophy that are prior
to truth and beauty, he establishes the logical conditions for any form of
expression. From sonnet 20 onward the youth sonnets require no further
structuring. As Volume 1 explains, because they are written cognizant of
the prior logical conditions they cannot be ordered further without creating
categories of understanding that limit the expression of natural logic. One
of the consequences of the lack of such categorisation is the apparently
random placement of sonnets that continue a particular argument. While
sonnet 28 follows on from sonnet 27, their argument is continued in sonnets
43 and 61.
In sonnet 27 the Poet, ‘weary with toil’ (27.1), is lying in bed with eyes
wide open seeing nothing but the pitch blackness of the ‘blind’ (27.8). Even
the efforts of the ‘eyes’ of his ‘soul’s imaginary sight’ (27.9) produce nothing
more than ‘their shadow’(27.10) as dark as black on blackness. Like searching
for a ‘black jewel’ hung in ‘ghastly night’ (27.11) his soul’s eyes see nothing.
The Poet’s desire to call up the image of the youth is thwarted by his inability
to bring an image of the youth before his eyes against the darkness outside.
Hence in the couplet, by day or night he can ‘no quiet find’.
Sonnet 28 continues the theme of the Poet’s inability to see the youth
day or night. His lack of ‘rest’ debars him from returning to the youth ‘in
happy plight’ (28.1-2). This time he attempts to visualise the youth as a star
but he fails because the night sky is starless. Out of his desperation to see
the youth’s image he ‘flatters the swart complexioned night’ (28.12), but the
‘sparkling stars twire not’ (28.12) or do not wink. In his desire to visualise
the youth he ‘guil’st’ or beguiles the evening. The couplet confirms that
again by both day and night he sees nothing, which makes his grief and
After the logical dismissal of the stars above as a source of truth and beauty
in sonnet 14, the Poet examines the inadequacy of such heavenly expectation
in sonnets 25 and 26. When he pursues the argument in sonnets 27 and 28 he
is adamant that nothing comes of gazing into the night sky. No stars appear
because the logic he seeks is in the relation between his and the youth’s
‘mind’. That relationship is established only through the eyes, which are the
portals to the mind and the heart, and thence to the ‘imaginary soul’.
Shakespeare reverses the traditional dogma that the soul is prior to human
understanding. Sonnet 43 confirms the reading of sonnets 27 and 28 that no
image of the youth appears before the Poet’s eyes. In sonnet 43 the Poet falls
asleep and dreams, and the image of the youth appears in his dream.
Because of the influence of inappropriate heaven-based beliefs, editors
fail to appreciate the logic of the eyes from sonnet 14. When they encounter
words in this group of thematically connected sonnets that to them have no
meaning, they change the words to accord with their prejudices. They
substitute a ‘thy’ for a ‘their’ in both sonnet 27 (27.10) and sonnet 43 (43.11)
on the presumption that the youth’s image does appear before the Poet’s eyes
in sonnets 27 and 28.
The editors’ ignorance of the Sonnet philosophy also leads them to emend
‘guil’st’ (28.12) to ‘gild’st’. The emendation changes the meaning from that
of a Poet being temporarily beguiled by the youth’s idealistic pretensions,
to the youth gilding the sky with idealised romantic light. The logical
argument of sonnets 27, 28 and 43 is contrary to such a simplistic reading.
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my out-cast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon my self and curse my fate.
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the Lark at the break of day arising)
From sullen earth sings hymns at Heaven's gate,
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings,
That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.
Since sonnet 24, the image of the ‘eyes’ has been the focus of the Poet’s
argument. Each sonnet has examined the relation of the eyes to other sources
of knowledge and determines that only from the eyes do truth and beauty
derive. By sonnet 29 an intense irony develops, partly as a consequence of
the Poet’s continual self-evaluation and partly as a critique of overwrought
idealistic expectations. Because the youth is also a persona of the Poet, he
judges himself before he judges others. His critique of idealism is also a
critique of the idealistic expectations in his own thoughts.
In sonnet 29, the Poet considers himself in disgrace both with ‘Fortune’
and in ‘men’s eyes’ (29.1). His failure to conjure an image of the youth against
the night sky in sonnets 27 and 28 leads him to ‘curse my fate’ (29.4). But,
with intentional irony, his attempts to ‘trouble deaf heaven’were fated from
the start. The Poet, caught between the ‘stars’ and the ‘eyes’, determines in
favour of the natural logic available from the youth’s ‘eyes’.
The Poet wishes to imitate the ‘features’, the ‘friends’, the ‘art’ and the
‘scope’ of one ‘more rich in hope’ (29.5). The longing for such ‘Fortune’,
though, leaves him ‘despising’ himself (29.8). The Poet’s happiness returns
when he thinks on the youth (29.10). As the youth represents the potential
for increase in the dynamic of life, the Poet likens him to a ‘Lark’ at the
‘break of day’. The Poet, from the vantage of his previous ‘state’ on what,
for the idealist, appears to be a ‘sullen earth’, now sardonically ‘sings hymns
at Heaven’s gate’ (29.12). Editors insert a comma after ‘earth’ (or extend the
parenthesis from line 11 to earth in line 12), destroying the logical relation
of the Poet and ‘earth’, and his mocking of ‘Heaven’s gate’.
In the couplet, the ‘sweet love’ that brings the Poet ‘such wealth’ is the
mutual love that replaces the selfish love criticised in sonnet 9. With the
recovery of the love based in natural logic, the Poet would not ‘change my
state with Kings’. For the Poet, Gods or Kings deserve his scorn if their love
is based on an understanding contrary to natural logic. The Poet’s understanding
of love, which is potential in youth, is the birthright through
increase of every human being regardless of station or influence.
Ironically, the complete misreading of sonnet 29, and sonnet 30, as ‘the
first great sonnets after sonnet 18’ (Blakemore Evans) and as ‘Christian
sonnets’ (Booth), reveals the inadequacy of traditional interpretation. Sonnets
29 and 30, when read from the vantage of their inherent philosophy, present
an ironic critique of the presumptions and prejudices of traditional malebased
dogmas and apologetic scholarship.
When to the Sessions of sweet silent thought,
Sonnet 30 echoes ideas expressed in sonnet 29. While other pairs of sonnets
are joined by logical connectives, sonnets 29 and 30 are connected thematically,
with the second sonnet repeating the concerns of the first. Larger
groups such as sonnets 91 to 94 are similarly related. Shakespeare organised
the 154 sonnets as a set of interrelating components based in natural logic.
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye (unused to flow)
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep a fresh love's long since cancelled woe,
And moan th'expence of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances fore-gone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.
The complex though precise structuring of the Sonnets, developed out
of the natural dynamic of human relationships, differs from other poetic
arrangements. More typical are those based on such conceits as the number
of days in the year (Spenser), the number of suitors to Penelope (Sidney),
or the imaginary relation of God, Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven (Dante).
Sonnet 30 follows sonnets 27 to 29 in which the Poet has spent time
alone. He remembers ‘things past’ in ‘Sessions of sweet silent thought’ (30.1-
2). He ‘sighs’ and ‘woes’ for the things he wanted and ‘my dear time’s waste’
(30.4). While alone he can ‘drown an eye’ for ‘precious friends’ who have
died, weep for ‘fresh love’s long since cancelled woe’ and moan about the
‘expense’ (see the first line of sonnet 129) of ‘vanished sights’ (30.8). The
poet continues to ‘grieve’, and ‘woe’ and ‘moan’ as if he is paying again for
things paid for ‘before’ (30.12).
If for 12 lines the Poet has bemoaned and grieved ‘time’s waste’ regarding
‘things past’, in the couplet ‘all losses are restored, and sorrows end’. When
the Poet ‘thinks on’ the youth, he is restored. Sonnet 29 identified ‘deaf
heaven’ and ‘Heaven’s gate’ as the source of the problem. When the idealistic
self-regard inculcated by old belief systems is rejected, the Master
Mistress or youth can recover his natural logic. The Poet also celebrates his
own maturity in the natural logic of life.
Some of the complexity in the Sonnets is due to Shakespeare’s willingness
to parody traditional systems of belief by contrasting them with his Nature
based logic. Those who seek evidence of their traditional beliefs in the
Sonnets ironically find themselves in conflict with the Sonnet logic, which
catches them desiring more than natural logic allows.
Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts,
Sonnet 31 brings to a pitch the critique of traditional beliefs from sonnets
29 and 30. Just as many commentators blithely dismiss the importance of
the 14 increase sonnets to the logic of the set, they seek to obviate the
critique of traditional beliefs in the three sonnets. But since the increase
sonnets are logically placed to introduce the set, it follows that Shakespeare
would have articulated the truth and beauty dynamic of sonnets 20 to 126
based on the preconditions they establish.
Which I by lacking have supposed dead,
And there reigns Love and all Love's loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stolen from mine eye,
As interest of the dead, which now appear,
But things removed that hidden in there lie.
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give,
That due of many, now is thine alone.
Their images I loved, I view in thee,
And thou (all they) hast all the all of me.
Sonnet 31 continues the Poet’s concern with the status of death in sonnet
30. The ‘bosom’ of the youth is ‘endeared’ or enriched with ‘all hearts’
(31.1). But because the aging Poet ‘lacks’ such a bosom, he has ‘supposed
(it) dead’ (31.2). The youth is presented with the increase argument because
youth is more likely to increase than an aging Poet. While the Poet’s ‘lack’
of capacity leaves him without ‘hope’, he recognises that in the youth ‘there
reigns Love and all Love’s loving parts’ (31.3) or sexual propensities. When
the Poet acknowledges youth’s potential, then ‘all those friends which (he)
thought buried’ (31.4) are contained in the youth’s desire for posterity.
Because life continues from generation to generation ‘hearts’ once ‘supposed
dead’ are still part of his genealogical legacy.
The Poet asks how many a ‘holy’ and dutiful ‘tear’ has ‘dear (costly)
religious love stolen from my eye’ (as both the mind’s eye and the sexual
eye) as ‘interest of the dead’ (31.5-7). Religious love is a usurer on the living
in the name of the dead. It is evident to the Poet that the dead are ‘but things
removed’ that are ‘hidden’ (31.8) in the sexual potential of the youth. Youth,
through the adolescent idealism of religion, has been made the ‘grave’where
‘buried love doth live’ (31.9). The ‘trophies of my lovers gone’ or the
genealogical connections to the Poet from the youth through their sexual
parts, are ‘due’ (31.12), or ready to give birth to many more through increase.
In the couplet, the Poet sees the ‘images I loved’ in the youth, and the
youth ‘hast all the all of me’. As the youth is a persona of the Poet when
young (as sonnet 22 explains), the Poet and the youth are one, and the one
is ‘all the all’ of the other.
Sonnet 31 is another of the ‘eye’ sonnets emended by most editors. The
‘there’ (31.8) is changed to ‘thee’ because they do not appreciate that the
act of looking into, and with, the ‘eyes’ is the logical basis for truth and
beauty. The path from the ‘eye’ into the ‘bosom’ reveals the true location
of ‘all hearts’ or ‘buried friends’. It is in ‘there’, through the ‘eye’ into the
‘bosom’, where ‘Love’ as the ‘all the all of me’ resides.
If thou survive my well contented day,
Shake-speares Sonnets occupy a unique place in literature because they
establish the logical relation between the mythic basis of thought and
everyday events and experiences. Every sonnet within the sequence gets its
deep meaning, its ‘content’, from the mythic understanding expressed in the
organisation and numbering of the whole set of 154 sonnets. It is not sufficient
to understand the Sonnets in terms of an Elizabethan youth and woman.
Neither is it sufficient to marvel at Shakespeare’s poetic skills. For the Poet,
being ‘well contented’ (32.1) means he has intellectual mastery over the
mythic content of poetry.
When that churl death my bones with dust shall cover
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey:
These poor rude lines of thy deceased Lover:
Compare them with the bett'ring of the time,
And though they be out-stripped by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rhyme,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
Oh then vouchsafe me but this loving thought,
Had my friend's Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died and Poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I'll read, his for his love.
When Shakespeare wrote the Sonnets he was pre-eminently aware of the
nature of their content. The mythic content of the set connects the logic
of ‘love’ and ‘truth and beauty’ to the processes of life. The skill in writing
poetry, the quality of the ‘rhyme’ or the effectiveness of ‘style’, while
necessary for accomplished poetry is secondary to mastering the content of
what is said. The mastery of the mythic content in the Sonnets provides the
basis for the depth and range of expression in Shakespeare’s plays and longer
In sonnet 32, the Poet compares his sonnets to those of others whose
writing ‘outstrips’ his in ‘rhyme’ and ‘style’. If the youth ‘survives’ the Poet,
and his poems survive for the youth to ‘re-survey’ (32.3), he asks him to
‘compare them with the bettering of the time’ (32.5). The Poet expects his
poetry will be ‘outstripped by every pen’ but asks the youth to ‘reserve’ his
‘poor rude lines’ for their ‘love’ and not for their ‘rhyme’ (32.7).
The Poet wants the youth to grant him ‘this loving thought’ (32.9). Had
the Poet’s (‘my friend’s’) ‘Muse’ (32.10) been alive, and had it conformed
to the poetics of the ‘growing age’, it might have had the costly consequence
(‘a dearer birth’) of converting him to the ‘ranks’ of those so-called ‘happier
men’ whose pens were ‘better’ equipped (32.12) for ‘rhyme’ and ‘style’. The
use of imagery from the strict formalities of dressage to characterise those
who use rhyme and style is repeated in sonnet 91.
In the couplet, the Poet asks the youth to agree that, if after he dies and
later poets ‘better prove’, the youth will read them for their ‘style’ and him
for his ‘love’. The Poet wishes to be remembered for the ‘content’ of his
poetry, or its capacity to convey the logic of human ‘love’.
Sonnet 21 introduced the youth’s Muse, who was criticised for her
willingness to ‘be stirred by a painted beauty to his verse’. The Muse of
sonnet 32 is the Poet’s Muse who appreciates the natural logic of life. In
sonnet 38 the Poet reconciles the two Muses.
Full many a glorious morning have I seen,
Sonnet 33 is the first of four consecutive sonnets (33 to 36) in which the
Poet considers the effect of ‘shame’ or ‘disgrace’ arising from a ‘stain’ or ‘fault’
in the youth. Over the four sonnets, the basic idea is first introduced with
the motifs of sun and clouds. It is then elaborated with increasing depth until
the focus shifts directly to express the concerns of the Poet for the youth.
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green;
Guilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy:
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride,
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the for-lorn world his visage hide
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my Sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendor on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this, my love no whit disdaineth,
Suns of the world may stain, when heaven's sun staineth.
To summarise the argument of the four sonnets, sonnet 33 begins the
series with contrasting images of a ‘glorious morning’ and a ‘cloudy’ day to
characterise the nature of the ‘disgrace’ (33.8). Sonnet 34 repeats the
sun/cloud imagery in its first four lines and then becomes more specific
about the nature of the ‘offence’. Sonnet 35 follows a similar pattern. It
examines more closely the nature of men’s ‘faults’ and why the Poet should
willingly take the youth’s ‘blame’ on himself. Sonnet 36 introduces, with a
play on ‘two’ and ‘one’, the individuality of the Poet and youth and their
logical unity through the ‘love’ defined in the increase sonnets.
In sonnet 33, the Poet begins his argument with the metaphor of a day
affected by both the ‘sovereign eye’ of the sun (33.2) and ‘clouds’ (33.5).
The ‘glorious morning’ at sunrise ‘flatters’, ‘kisses’ and ‘guilds’ with ‘heavenly
alchemy’ (33.4). When it is remembered that sonnet 14 excludes practices
such as alchemy from the logical basis for truth and beauty, and sonnets 29
to 31 have dismissed the notion of ‘heaven’, Shakespeare’s critical intent for
the four sonnets is patently clear.
The day has a darker side in ‘the basest clouds’ (33.5) that allow the sun’s
‘celestial face’ to steal to the ‘west’ with the ‘disgrace’ of the ‘for-lorn world’
(33.7-8). The Poet identifies the Sun as ‘my Sun’ (33.9) who for a while
shines ‘triumphant’, but within an hour the ‘cloud hath masked him from
me now’ (33.12). (Sonnet 35 reveals that the youth has committed some
‘sensual fault’). In the couplet the Poet says he will not disdain the youth.
If the ‘sun’ of the ‘heavens’ stains, then the ‘suns of the world’ can stain.
Despite the ‘glorious’ and ‘triumphant’ appeal of the ideal, identified as
a masculine trait, ‘base clouds’ restore the youth to Nature’s balance. ‘Love’
in the Sonnets is based in Nature and is present in the ideal because the ideal
is part of Nature. The ‘Sun’, representing the idealising youth, is capitalised
in Q to suggest Apollo, and so the male gods of heaven. But as the youth
derives biologically from the female, he is located within the mythic
structure of the Sonnets as the masculine ideal that is inferior to the feminine
as the sovereign mistress or Nature (sonnet 126).
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005