Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
In the previous sonnet, the Poet looks to Nature to characterise the human
condition. He contrasts the ‘glorious morning’ with the ‘ugly rack’ of ‘basest
clouds’. He argues that it is natural for the idealistic youth, who represents
the ‘Suns of the world’, to have a darker side. As sonnet 34 develops, the
metaphor of light and dark is transformed into a concern for right and
wrong. The beauty of the youth, like the beauty of the day, conceals his
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o'er-take me in my way,
Hiding thy brav'ry in their rotten smoke.
'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak,
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief,
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss,
Th'offender's sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence's loss.
Ah but those tears are pearl which thy love sheeds,
And they are rich, and ransom all ill deeds.
In sonnet 34, the potential for deception developed in sonnet 33
(‘disgrace’, ‘stain’) is apparent in the first line where the ‘promise’ of a
‘beauteous day’ is doubted. The sonnet examines the logical implication
when a ‘promise’ cannot be honoured, as with the religious promise of an
idealised heaven. Instead of the promised sunshine, the idealistic youth ‘lets
base clouds’ hide ‘thy bravery in their rotten smoke’ (34.4). The Poet says
it is not ‘enough’ to ‘dry the rain’ from his face when the sun shines through
gaps in the clouds. He cannot ‘speak well’ of a ‘salve’ that merely ‘heals his
wound’ without addressing the ‘disgrace’ (34.8).
In life or Nature, youthful potential gives way to old age just as clouds
affect the beauteous day. The Poet argues that the heavenly ‘promise’ of
eternal youth or the lure of ‘heavenly alchemy’ (sonnet 33) to relieve the
effects of age are a ‘disgrace’. The natural logic of the Sonnets gives the lie
to such overwrought ‘promises’.
Though the youth feels ‘shame’ (34.9) and ‘repents’ (34.10), the Poet still
has ‘the loss’. The ‘offender’s sorrow’ gives only ‘weak relief ’ to those who
‘bear’ the ‘strong offence’s cross’ (34.12). The allusion to the cross of Christ,
a symbol of unfulfillable promise, is an offence against natural logic when
it offers to provide a heaven without clouds.
The couplet provides the solution to the idealistic ‘offence’. Using a
sexual image that recovers the possibility of increase, the Poet says that the
‘tears’ that ‘thy love sheeds’ are ‘pearls’ that are ‘rich’ and will ‘ransom all ill
deeds’. Tears occur again with sexual intent in sonnet 148.
No more be griev'd at that which thou hast done,
The arguments of sonnets 33 and 34 show how Nature as sunny and cloudy
can be used to critique idealistic expectations and lead to the recovery of
natural logic. The couplet of 34 expresses the logic of ‘love’with its sexual
‘tears of pearl’, which are able to ‘ransom all ill deeds’. The sexual dynamic
in Nature is the given for the logical operation of truth and beauty. It
prepares for the expression of reconciliation in sonnet 35.
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,
Clouds and eclipses stain both Moon and Sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
My self corrupting salving thy amiss,
Excusing their sins more than their sins are:
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense,
Thy adverse party is thy Advocate,
And 'gainst my self a lawful plea commence,
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
That I an accessory needs must be,
To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.
The Poet advises the youth not to ‘grieve’ at what he has ‘done’ (35.1).
Under the guidance of the Poet, the youth matures his excessive idealism
by accepting the logic of increase out of Nature. If he previously imagined
a heavenly state beyond the ‘sullen earth’, his growing awareness of the sexual
dynamic tempers his idealism with realism.
Sonnet 35 brings to bear on the youth the preconditions for truth and
beauty defined in the first 19 sonnets and the logic of truth and beauty
defined in the Mistress sonnets. It addresses the imbalance in his understanding
of beauty and truth. The Poet counsels that Roses have ‘thorns’
and ‘loathsome canker in sweetest bud’ (35.2-4), and ‘silver fountains’ have
‘mud’. Both the ‘Moon’ as the symbol of the Mistress and the ‘Sun’ as the
symbol of male gods are affected by ‘clouds and eclipses’ (35.3).
To counter the youth’s excessive idealism, the Poet reassures him that
‘all men make faults’ (35.5). Even the Poet in his arguments to the youth
goes further than he would want when he ‘authorizes thy trespass with
compare’ (35.6). The logic of truth entails that the Poet corrupts himself as
he ‘salves’ the youth’s faults, because the tendency is to ‘excuse their (men’s)
sins, more than their (men’s) sins are’ (35.8). Within the logic of truth or
‘saying’ it is easy to overstate a case when arguing against a wrong.
But the Poet brings common ‘sense’ (35.9) to the youth’s ‘sensual fault’.
The youth’s ‘Advocate’ is the ‘adverse party’ who argues for the ‘adverse’ or
a world contrary to Nature and against its unity. So the Poet, whose understanding
reconciles unity and diversity, makes a ‘lawful plea’ against himself
(35.11). He makes it seem as if there is a ‘civil war’ in his ‘love and hate’ for
the youth. In the couplet, by the logic of truth and beauty, the Poet ‘must
be’ an ‘accessory’ to the youth’s fault. He recognises that when young he
was like the ‘sweet thief ’ or idealistic youth who now ‘sourly robs’ the Poet
of his connection to posterity.
Editors emend both instances of ‘their’ in line 8 of Q to ‘thy’. Because
they read the Sonnets as a romance between the Shakespeare and a friend
their reading does not take account of the Poet’s simultaneous address to
the youth as a person and a persona.
Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Sonnet 22 introduced the logic of the Poet’s relation to the youth. The Poet
and the youth were both persons in the world and personae from different
phases of the Poet’s life. He is conscious both of his mature life as a Poet
and his immature period as a youth, which now forms part of his remembered
experience. The logic of the Sonnets applies consistently to female and
male persons in the world and feminine and masculine personae of the mind.
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight,
I may not ever-more acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
In sonnet 36 the Poet ‘confesses’ to the youth that ‘we two must be
twain’. Although their ‘undivided loves are one’ (36.2), the Poet’s age and
maturity separate him from the vitality and potential of the youth. Their
‘loves are one’ because they are united through the possibility of increase
without which no love persists, and because the youth is the Poet as he was
when young. So the ‘blots’ (36.3), or the sensual faults of a once idealistic
youth, remain with the Poet. As the Poet ages, the influence of his youth
leaves its mark. The youth cannot ‘help’ the Poet because, for the aging Poet,
his youth is past.
If the two loves of Poet and youth are united in ‘one respect’, there is
still ‘in’ their ‘lives’ a ‘separable spite’, or a separation both in spite of and to
spite themselves. The separation does not alter ‘love’s sole effect’ (36.7) but,
because of their differences in age, it steals ‘sweet hours from love’s delight’
(36.8). The Poet suggests he ‘may not’ acknowledge the influence of youth
on his maturity because his sense of guilt might do ‘shame’ (36.10) to the
youth’s innocence. For his part, the youth should not with ‘public kindness
honour’ the Poet (36.12), unless he honours him separately from the youth’s
In the couplet, the Poet retracts both suggestions. His love for the youth
is of ‘such sort’ by being founded in natural logic and, as the youth is his by
being his youthful persona, then the Poet’s ‘report’ is the youth’s ‘good
In the progression from sonnet 33 to sonnet 36 the Poet has shown the
youth the inconsistencies of idealistic expectations. He has taken false
promises and shown how to ransom them with ‘pearly tears’, then he has
taken him through the argumentative process he uses to remedy faults, and
finally shown him the source of division and unity, and how to reunite them
in natural logic.
As a decrepit father takes delight,
In sonnet 37, which mentions both truth and beauty, the increase argument
is apparent. As the Poet restates the priorities that make him ‘happy’ (37.14),
he compares himself to a ‘decrepit father’ who takes ‘delight’ in a ‘child’who
does ‘deeds of youth’ (37.2). The Poet, made ‘lame by Fortune’s dearest spite’
(37.3), or by the process of aging, takes ‘comfort’ in the youth’s ‘worth and
To see his active child do deeds of youth,
So I, made lame by Fortune's dearest spite
Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
For whether beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit,
Or any of these all, or all, or more
Intitled in their parts, do crowned sit,
I make my love engrafted to this store:
So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised,
Whilst that this shadow doth such substance give,
That I in thy abundance am sufficed,
And by a part of all thy glory live:
Look what is best, that best I wish in thee,
This wish I have, then ten times happy me.
The Poet first establishes the basis for the possibility of ‘truth’. The
relation between a ‘decrepit’ (37.1) or aging father and child gives pleasure
when the child’s ‘deeds’ (37.2) demonstrate an awareness of the logic of
increase. As the logic of increase is prior to truth and beauty, the youth’s
worth is based in his potential to persist.
Whether it is ‘beauty, birth, or wealth, or wit, or any of these all, or all,
or more’ (37.5-6), which are ‘in their parts’ entitled to sit ‘crowned’, the Poet
makes his ‘love engrafted to this store’ (37.8). The Poet restates the increase
argument presented in the first 14 sonnets, and defined in terms of ‘store’
in sonnets 11 and 14. As increase is a precondition for human persistence,
then only increase can be the logical basis of ‘love’, as stated definitively in
The continuity of humankind through generations, and the logical
potential for the Poet to persist through youth, enables him to forget being
‘lame, poor, (and) despised’ (37.9). So long as the ‘shadow’ of potential
increase persists it gives ‘substance’ to life. The Poet is ‘sufficed’ in the youth’s
‘abundance’ as he is able by a ‘part of all thy glory’ to continue to ‘live’
(37.12). Sonnet 37 anticipates sonnet 53 where ‘millions of strange shadows’
tend on the youth’s ‘substance’.
The couplet exhorts the youth to look to ‘what is best’. If the youth
realises the Poet’s ‘wish’ then he will be ‘ten times happy’. Shakespeare evokes
the Sonnet numerology in the last line of sonnet 37 in preparation for a play
on the numerological relation between 9 and 1 in sonnet 38. The 10 (10
= 1+0 = 1) is the number for Nature and the Mistress, and is also the number
for the Poet who understands the natural logic of the relation between
Nature and the female and male.
Editors, who are unwilling to see the continuing influence of the increase
sonnets in the rest of the set, change ‘their’ in line 7 of the original to ‘thy’.
Instead of appreciating that lines 5 to 9 are a statement by the Poet about
the relationship of ‘love’ to natural logic, they persist with the convention
that the Sonnets tell of Shakespeare’s affair with a London-based youth.
How can my Muse want subject to invent
The last line of sonnet 37 ended with the phrase ‘then ten times happy me’.
Sonnet 38 expands sonnet 37’s play on the number 10 to invoke the numerological
system of the whole set. Sonnet 38 also brings together the previous
mention of the youth’s Muse in sonnet 21 and the Poet’s Muse in sonnet
32. The Poet now contrasts his Muse with the 9 Muses of old who inspire
the youth (and the rival poets) to rhyme and style before the tenth Muse
enables him to appreciate the natural logic of the increase argument.
While thou dost breathe that pour'st into my verse,
Thine own sweet argument, too excellent,
For every vulgar paper to rehearse:
Oh give thy self the thanks if ought in me,
Worthy perusal stand against thy sight,
For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,
When thou thy self dost give invention light?
Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate,
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to out-live long date.
If my slight Muse do please these curious days,
The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.
The Poet asks rhetorically, ‘How can my Muse want subject to invent’
while the youth is still alive or has ‘breath’ (38.2). The potential of youth is
its own ‘sweet argument’, which is ‘too excellent for every vulgar paper to
rehearse’ (38.4). The logical content of the whole set anticipates the Poet’s
characterisation of the youth in sonnet 37 as evidence for the potential of
increase. In keeping with the priority of increase over poetry, the youth is
living proof that breathing precedes writing on ‘paper’.
The Poet sardonically ‘thanks’ the youth if a ‘worthy perusal’ or reading
of his poetry was rated over the ‘sight’ (38.6) of the youth’s beauty. After
all, the ‘dumb’ could ‘write’ excellent poetry about the youth, even though
they might not accept that his potential for increase gives ‘invention light’
(38.8). After basing the argument of sonnet 37 in the increase/truth and
beauty dynamic, the Poet states the logical conditions for poetry in sonnet
38 just as he did with the 5 poetry and increase sonnets (15 to 19) that
followed the increase/truth and beauty dynamic in sonnet 14.
The Poet suggests the youth should become the ‘tenth Muse’ (38.9). He
would then be ‘ten times more in worth than those old nine that ‘rhymers
invocate’. In the Sonnet numerology the number 9 of the 126 youth sonnets
is worth less without the added 1 of the 28 Mistress sonnets. Because 126
= 1+2+6 = 9 and 28 = 2+8= 10 = 1+0 = 1, the Master Mistress needs to
recombine with the Mistress. The combination of the two Muses (9+1 =
10 = 1+0 = 1) forms a unity equivalent to the unity of the Poet’s comprehensive
The youth could then ‘bring forth eternal numbers’ and ‘out-live long
date’ (38.12) through the increase process. Only by adhering to natural logic
can the youth be ‘eternal’. In the couplet, the Poet’s ‘slight Muse’, despite
the ‘pain’ of old age, recognises that the contribution of youth deserves
‘praise’. The Poet encourages the youth to leave the vulgar realm of the rival
poet so he can realise his potential. When the youth graduates to the same
level of understanding as the Poet, who unites the Master Mistress and the
Mistress, he puts himself in accord with Nature, the sovereign mistress.
Oh how thy worth with manners may I sing,
Sonnet 37 referred to ‘store’ or increase and the number 10, and sonnet 38
affirmed the numerological relationship of 1 and 9 between the Poet and
the Master Mistress. Now sonnets 39 and 40 consider the person/persona
dynamic between the Poet, Master Mistress, before sonnets 41 and 42
introduce the Poet’s feminine or Mistress persona. The Poet’s masculine
persona has recurred a few times since sonnet 22, and now he adds the
Mistress as person and persona in sonnets 41 and 42.
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring;
And what is't but mine own when I praise thee,
Even for this, let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give:
That due to thee which thou deserv'st alone:
Oh absence what a torment wouldst thou prove,
Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave,
To entertain the time with thoughts of love,
Which time and thoughts so sweetly doth deceive.
And that thou teachest how to make one twain,
By praising him here who doth hence remain.
The commentaries on sonnets 39 to 42 show how important it is to read
all the sonnets in the light of Shakespeare’s natural logic and not as a psychobiographical
account of his life. While it is possible to detect references to
persons in Shakespeare’s life in a few sonnets (99, 112, 135, 135, 145), every
reading that attempts to do so for the whole set encounters insurmountable
difficulties and inconsistencies.
The status of the youth as a persona of the older Poet is established in
the first four lines of sonnet 39. The Poet asks how he can ‘sing’ the ‘worth’
of the youth ‘with manners’ (39.1), or in the appropriate public manner,
when the youth ‘is the better part of me’ (39.2). If the Poet was to praise
the youth aloud then ‘what can mine own praise to mine own self bring’
(39.3). ‘Worth’ can only be determined in comparison with something else.
The aging Poet, despite his logical connection to youth, accepts that they
must ‘divided live’ (39.5) if they are to ‘lose (the) name of single one’. The
Poet counters the cost of ‘dear love’ (39.6), or selfish religious love (see
sonnet 31), by acknowledging the youth’s independence and his potential
to persist. The ‘absence’ of his youth would be a ‘torment’ (39.9) were it
not for the realisation that ‘sour leisure’ provides the ‘sweet’ opportunity for
‘thoughts of love’. The ‘separation’ is the only way to overcome the
deception that ‘time’ or age and ‘thoughts’ (39.11) falsely ‘entertain’.
In the couplet, the Poet recognises that youth teaches age the value of
making ‘one twain’. The potential of youth provides the appropriate praise
for the Poet who remains or dies while youth increases. The Poet addresses
his twofold nature as a unity in combination with the disunity of the youth.
The interrelation of persons and personae leads on to sonnets 41 and 42
where a ‘woman’ is introduced into the sonnets to the youth. Some
commentators, ignorant of the Sonnet logic, assign sonnets 41 and 42 to the
Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all,
In sonnet 40, the word-play of the first quatrain evokes the perpetual
interplay between the youth and the older Poet or between the Poet’s youth
and his older self. The Poet objects that the youth only wants his ‘love’
because of the immortality the Poet can offer through poetry. Such poetic
‘love’, though, is a consequence of the ‘true love’ (40.3) out of the possibility
of the persistence through increase. It is the generating ‘love’ introduced
in the increase argument.
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call,
All mine was thine, before thou hadst this more:
Then if for my love, thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee, for my love thou usest,
But yet be blamed, if thou this self deceivest
By wilful taste of what thy self refusest.
I do forgive thy robb'ry gentle thief
Although thou steal thee all my poverty:
And yet love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love's wrong, than hate's known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites yet we must not be foes.
But because the Master Mistress and the Poet are both human, it follows
that the Master Mistress already has ‘all’ the Poet’s love: ‘All mine was thine,
before thou hadst this more’ (40.4). The youth finds it difficult to appreciate
that loving the Poet simply as a Poet rather than as a human being
creates the illusion of having something ‘more’.
The Poet accepts he cannot ‘blame’ the youth for attempting to ‘use’ such
poetic ‘love’ (40.5). But he cannot accept the youth deceiving him:‘Thou this
self deceivest by wilful taste of what thy self refusest’ (40.6-7). If the youth
‘willfully’ indulges in poetic ‘love’ while not acknowledging its basis in
increase his efforts will be contrary to natural logic. The Poet, because he
knows from experience that the youth’s behaviour is not untypical, forgives
his ‘robb’ry’ (40.9). With deep irony the Poet considers the poetic skill and
fame, which youth wants to ‘steal’, a ‘poverty’ (40.10).
For Shakespeare, unlike so many other poets, verse is not a reliable means
to ensure immortality. Rather it is secondary to the natural immortality of
increase. Because the Poet ‘loves’ the youth he finds it difficult to accept such
a knowing ‘wrong’ because it causes a ‘greater grief ’ than ‘hate’s known
In the couplet, such ‘lascivious grace’, or wantonness and love combined,
which ‘well shows’ all its ‘ill’, or negative qualities, mortifies the Poet (‘Kill
me with spites’). But, because the whole process is a perennial one based in
natural logic, he and youth cannot forever be ‘foes’.
Some editors change ‘this’ of line 7 to ‘thy’. The change is an unnecessary
interference in the sonnet where the word ‘this’ has meaning in the context of
the sonnet and in the context of the Sonnet logic (see Emendations).
Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits,
Following sonnets 39 and 40, which consider the personae of Poet and
Master Mistress, sonnets 41 and 42 specifically relate the personae of Mistress
and Master Mistress to that of the Poet. The relation of the Poet, Mistress
and Master Mistress is explored until its logical resolution in the couplet of
When I am some-time absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty, and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed.
And when a woman woes, what woman's son,
Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed.
Aye me, but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty, and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forced to break a two-fold truth:
Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine by thy beauty being false to me.
Because the Mistress is prior to the Master Mistress, she remains a logical
presence in the arguments of the Poet to the youth. In sonnet 20 the Master
Mistress’ relation to ‘women’ was defined. In keeping with his derivation
from the Mistress, he was characterised as a male with feminine features.
From sonnets 22 to 40, while the Poet has focused on the logic of the youth
and himself as persons and personae, the role of the Mistress has been an
unexpressed given. Now the Mistress is encountered as both a person and
as a persona of the Poet/Master Mistress.
In sonnet 41, the Poet reflects that the youth will commit ‘pretty wrongs’
when the Poet is ‘sometime absent’ from ‘thy heart’ (41.2). The youth’s
‘beauty’, as is appropriate for his ‘years’, causes ‘temptation’ to follow him
(41.4). He is ‘gentle’ and therefore ‘to be won’, and ‘beauteous’ and therefore
‘to be assailed’ (41.6). His selfishness, though, as the increase sonnets warned,
is such that when a ‘woman woes’ (41.7) at his idealised self regard, paradoxically,
this ‘son’ of a ‘woman’ (sonnet 3), will take his pleasure rather than
be ‘soured’ (41.8) by her complaints. Despite the youth’s tendency to selfgratification,
the Poet hopes he will ‘my seat forbear’ or acknowledge the
Poet’s mature understanding derived from his seat or sexual logic (41.9). The
youth should ‘chide’ the ‘beauty, and the ‘straying’ that leads him to ‘riot’
and break a ‘two fold truth’ (41.12).
The Poet details the double offence in the couplet. Her ‘truth’, which
initially tempts her to the youth, is upset because of youthful self-interest.
The youth’s ‘truth’ is broken because his beauty causes him to spurn the
lessons of the Poet’s poetry. Youth cannot achieve mythic poetry without
first acknowledging natural logic.
Sonnet 41 can only be understood within the structure of the Sonnet
set. Traditional inventions of a love life for Shakespeare with a ‘dark lady’
and a ‘friend’have led to illogical emendations. The decision by most editors
to read ‘woes’ as ‘woos’ presumes the woman woos the youth. The contradictions
that arise through the emendation cause some editors to change
the ‘he’ to ‘she’ in line 8 to sustain the corrupted sense.
That thou hast her it is not all my grief,
In sonnet 41, the Master Mistress showed scant regard for the argument of
the previous sonnets on the logic of increase and truth and beauty with his
uncaring attitude toward the Mistress. The Poet now explores the ‘twofold’
nature of the broken ‘truth’ from the couplet of sonnet 41.
And yet it may be said I loved her dearly,
That she hath thee is of my wailing chief,
A loss in love that touches me more nearly.
Loving offenders thus I will excuse ye,
Thou dost love her, because thou know'st I love her,
And for my sake even so doth she abuse me,
Suffering my friend for my sake to approve her,
If I lose thee, my loss is my love's gain,
And losing her, my friend hath found that loss,
Both find each other, and I lose both twain,
And both for my sake lay on me this cross,
But here's the joy, my friend and I are one,
Sweet flattery, then she loves but me alone.
Not all the aging Poet’s ‘grief ’ (42.1) is caused by the youth leaving him
to ‘have’ the Mistress. Although ‘it may be said’ that the Poet once ‘loved
her dearly’ (42.2) with youthful idealism, his ‘chief ’ cause of ‘wailing’ is that
the youth is repeating his faults. The youth’s attitude to the Mistress in sonnet
41 has caused a ‘loss in love’ (42.4), or a regression to the state the Poet was
in before he matured his understanding.
The Poet, though, excuses both ‘loving offenders’ (42.5). He appreciates
that while the youth knows of his love for the Mistress, because he is a youth
he ‘has’ her in the only way he knows how. For her part, the Poet excuses
the Mistress because he knows she makes the youth ‘suffer’ (42.8) so he will
learn, as did the Poet, how to ‘approve her’, or accept her priority. The Poet
approves the Mistress’ actions because she challenges the youth’s selfishness
with her ‘woe’ (sonnet 41).
To bring the triangle of relations into focus the Poet reflects that in losing
the youth it is the Mistress who gains him (42.9). And, in losing the Mistress,
his ‘friend’ gains her because ‘both find each other, and I lose both twain’
(42.11). The Poet accepts that the Master Mistress’woeful experience with
the Mistress is part of the natural logic of life. To accentuate the dearness
or costliness of youthful idealism the Poet reflects that he is reminded that
they ‘both for my sake lay me on this cross’ (of Christ’s self perpetuating
The couplet then reveals the key to the dynamic of ‘grief ’ and ‘love’.
Because the Poet, Master Mistress, and Mistress are both persons developed
into logical types from Shakespeare’s lifelong experiences, and personae of
the Poet, he can say, ‘but here’s the joy, my friend and I are one’. His
masculine and feminine sides (the Master Mistress and the Mistress), are
inalienable parts of his being. He concludes with the ‘sweet flattery’ or
assurance in his natural logic that, because the youth and his own youth are
logically the same, ‘then she loves but me alone’.
When I most wink then do mine eyes best see,
The commentary on sonnets 27 and 28 mentioned their connection to
sonnet 43. Together sonnets 27 and 28 considered the Poet’s inability, when
he lay with his eyes open, to conjure an image of the youth against the
blackness of the night. During the day the youth was absent from his sight
and during the night he is unable to conjure his ‘shadow’. His open ‘eyes’
could only project ‘their shadow’or featureless sight against the dark of night.
For all the day they view things unrespected,
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form, form happy show,
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to un-seeing eyes thy shade shines so?
How would (I say) mine eyes be blessed made,
By looking on thee in the living day?
When in dead night their fair imperfect shade,
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay?
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
Sonnet 43 now reveals that the Poet’s ‘eyes best see’ (43.1) the absent
youth after the Poet falls asleep. It is in the Poet’s ‘dreams’ (43.3) that his
eyes can ‘look on thee’. In the sightless world of his ‘dreams’, darkness now
seems ‘bright’ (43.4) and the brightness finds form. The ‘shadow’(43.5) that
was invisible in the dark of night, is now visible to dream’s ‘unseeing eyes’
(43.8). The dream recreates what the Poet would see if the youth were
present in ‘living day’ (43.10). In the heavy sleep in the dead of night, the
shining ‘shade’ (43.11) stays as long as the Poet desires.
The couplet of sonnet 43 summarises the thoughts of 27, 28, and 43.
‘All days are nights’ because, as in the blackness of night while the youth is
away, the Poet does not see the youth even if he zealously ‘flatters’ the night
(27 and 28). Nights are ‘bright days’ only when ‘dreams do show thee (to)
me’ (43). The sonnet reiterates the logical relation between persons and
personae, where the youth doubles as an internal aspect of the Poet’s mind.
The position of sonnet 43 in relation to sonnets 27 and 28 is a consequence
of the structural logic of the whole set. The order of the Sonnets is
regulated by the overriding mythic structure of the whole 154 sonnets and
the internal sequences of 126 and 28 sonnets, the 14 increase sonnets, and
the 5 poetry and increase sonnets. Once Shakespeare conforms to the natural
logic evident in the relationship between Nature, the sexual dynamic,
increase, and the poetry and increase sonnets, he is free to dispose of the
individual sonnets as he wishes to best address the Master Mistress’ adolescent
idealism or the Mistress’ command of beauty and truth. Using the logical
structure, the Sonnets replicate the dynamic of thought in life rather than
conform to idealised categories of thought.
The traditional changes made from ‘their’ to ‘thy’ at 27.10 and 43.11 are
due to the editors’ ignorance of the Sonnet logic.
If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way,
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote, where thou dost stay,
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee,
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land,
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah, thought kills me that I am not thought
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend, time's leisure with my moan.
Receiving naughts by elements so slow,
But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.
The other two, slight air, and purging fire,
Comment on Sonnets 44 & 45
Are both with thee, where ever I abide,
The first my thought, the other my desire,
These present absent with swift motion slide.
For when these quicker Elements are gone
In tender Embassy of love to thee,
My life being made of four, with two alone,
Sinks down to death, oppressed with melancholy.
Until lives' composition be recured,
By those swift messengers returned from thee,
Who even but now come back again assured,
Of their fair health, recounting it to me.
This told, I joy, but then no longer glad,
I send them back again and straight grow sad.
Sonnets 44 and 45 are unique in the set in that they interject and critique
the Aristotelian theory of substances within the context of Shakespeare’s
discussion of truth and beauty based on the sexual dynamic in Nature. The
two sonnets are connected thematically by their exploration of the four
Aristotelian elements, earth, water, air and fire.
From the arguments and evidence in Volume 1, and in the sonnet
commentaries so far, it should be evident that Shakespeare’s logic is not based
on physical elements such as earth, water, air and fire. Aristotle’s categorisation
of human propensities based on an arbitrary differentiation of elements
is contrary to the logical relationship between Nature, the female and male,
and truth and beauty that structures the Sonnets. So Shakespeare plays a
poetic game with the four elements to reveal their correct status within the
dynamic of natural logic.
Shakespeare’s critique of the use of the four elements as the basis for a
metaphysics or ethics should not conceal his high regard for Aristotle. Like
Shakespeare, Aristotle based his understanding on Nature and not on the
mind-based idealisations of the Platonic/biblical tradition. It is no accident
that Shakespeare refers to Aristotle twice in his works but does not mention
Plato. Shakespeare’s rigorous natural logic, though, faults Aristotle when he
retains the Platonic conceit of idealised forms and the immutability of
species. Shakespeare’s natural logic rejects immutability because the logic of
increase entails the possibility that humankind may not persist.
Instead of attempting to characterise the universe in terms of Aristotle’s
four elements, Shakespeare uses them to characterise an aspect of his psychological
relation to the youth. He brings the elements back to their psychological
origins to demonstrate their limitations.
The parody of mind-based conceits begins in the first line of sonnet 44.
The Poet imagines the ‘dull substance of my flesh’, or his body, being
converted to ‘thought’ (44.1). He could then traverse ‘space’ to be with the
idealising youth. His parody of Platonism continues in the second quatrain.
If the Poet could ideally convert his body to mind then it would not matter
if his ‘foot’ stood on ‘earth’, because his thought could jump ‘both sea and
cloud’ (44.8) as ‘soon as think’.
The Poet heightens the attack when he suggests that such disembodied
‘thought’ will ‘kill’ him if he is not ‘thought’ (44.9). After all, Platonists and
other idealists such as Kant commit ‘murdrous shame’ (sonnet 9) when they
ignore the natural priority of the body over the mind. They convert natural
categories such as space and time into idealised categories of thought. The
Poet gives off a ‘moan’ because the illogical prioritisation of the fantasy of
leaping a ‘large lengths of miles’ (45.10) or imagining an endless ‘time’s
leisure’ (44.12) would subvert the earth and water-based logic of his imagination.
If his ‘thought’ is to leap to the youth, he would need all four
elements in their correct relationship to be the ideal Poet.
In the couplet, the Poet says he receives ‘naughts’ by elements as slow as
earth and water. He lacks the unity (0+0 = 0) he desires (9+1 = 10 = 1+0
= 1). His ‘heavy tears’, or sexual lethargy, is a ‘badge of woe’.
In sonnet 45, the other two elements, ‘slight air, and purging fire’ (45.1),
are with the youth. The youth, in contrast to the earthbound natural logic
of the Poet, is a typical flighty idealist who can burn himself with ‘slight’
desire. But the youth as a persona is also the Poet’s ‘thought’ and ‘desire’.
The air and fire are mercurially ‘present’ and then ‘absent’ as they ‘slide’
swiftly about in the Poet’s mind (45.4).
So the illogical separation of earth and water from air and fire in idealised
thought causes the Poet to be ‘melancholy’ (45.9). Only when the ‘swift
messengers’ (45.10) return from the youth to the Poet’s mind is his body
and mind reconciled. Once they are ‘back’ they ‘recount their fair health’
for the Poet. His health is now complete or counted. (9+1 = 10). But in
the couplet he accepts the dictate of natural logic that youth and age must
separate to persist, so he sends the two lighter elements ‘back again’ and
In striking contrast with Aristotle’s metaphysical use of the four elements,
Shakespeare refuses to give earth, water, air and fire metaphysical meaning.
Instead he shows their utility in resolving the psychology of the relation
between himself and youth.
Some editors change the ‘their’ in line 12 of sonnet 45 to ‘thy’ because
they consider the youth’s physical health is in question. Rather the Poet’s
recovery of the ‘air’ and ‘fire’ assures him of the ‘their health’, or the health
of his youth-derived thoughts and desires based in natural logic.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005