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They that have power to hurt, and will do none,When Shakespeare wrote a sonnet he based its meaning on the philosophy of the whole set. If a reader is ignorant of the philosophy of the whole set, then difficulties with the meaning of a particular sonnet follow automatically.
Ironically, sonnet 94 is a sonnet ‘famous’ for the frustration it causes commentators. Because they do not credit Shakespeare with a philosophy, much less a consistent philosophy, they are reduced to calling sonnet 94 elusive or enigmatic. They do not appreciate that Shakespeare’s understanding is based on the natural logic derived systematically from the processes of life. The connectedness and consistency of the whole set is a consequence of Shakespeare’s adherence to natural logic.
For Shakespeare, the possibility of determining right and wrong derives from natural logic. The dynamic of truth and beauty, to which all of Shakespeare’s Sonnets adhere, recognises that the capacity to do right and wrong is a matter of judgment based on the logical conditions for human existence inherent in nature. The natural perspective this generates enables Shakespeare to correct inconsistencies in traditional thought.
Sonnet 94 examines the consequences of inaction that result from unrealistic ideals. A decision to act may involve undesirable effects but these are preferable to the worse consequences of not acting. The Poet challenges those who should act, or have the ‘power to hurt’ (94.1), but do not. He questions their reasons for remaining as ‘stone, unmoved and cold’ and above ‘temptation’ (94.4).
He notes ironically that, because of their inaction, they can ‘rightly’ claim to ‘inherit’ the inertia of ‘heaven’s graces’ (94.5). In their unwillingness to act they ‘husband’, or refuse to expend, ‘nature’s riches’ (94.6), such as the potential for increase. Like ‘Lords’ (94.7), they consider themselves above human concerns and see ‘others’ as their ‘stewards’ or servants (94.8). Such a ‘summer’s flower’ (94.9), while ‘sweet in summer’, if it keeps to itself will merely ‘live and die’ (94.10). It ‘shows’ its weakness when challenged by ‘base infections’ or temptations. It is ‘out-braved by the basest weeds’ (94.12).
In the couplet, the ‘sweetest things turn sourest’ when their ‘deeds’ are proven to be for show. Such ‘lilies’, when they ‘fester, smell far worse than weeds' because weeds, not distracted by self regard, are contented and firmly rooted in day-to-day reality. In the plays, such as Measure for Measure, Shakespeare examines the consequences of over-idealised religious pride and its vulnerability to prejudice and temptation.
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame,Sonnets 95, 96, and 97, provide an object lesson in the fundamental aspects of Shakespeare’s philosophy. Sonnet 95 considers beauty, sonnet 96 truth, and sonnet 97 the increase argument. Ironically, these three sonnets follow sonnet 94, which commentators find so elusive and enigmatic. They have difficulty with 94 because they do not understand the philosophy with its logical relation between nature, increase, and truth and beauty. The application of the philosophic structure of the Sonnets to sonnet 94 is consistent with the triple affirmation of the logical conditions for expression and understanding in sonnets 95, 96 and 97.
In sonnet 95, the ‘Rose’ as the symbol for beauty throughout the Sonnets is mentioned in line 2 and ‘beauty’ in lines 3 and 11. The ‘sweet’ and ‘lovely’ youth is said to enclose his ‘shame’ (95.1) and ‘sins’ (94.4) just as a Rose bud conceals its hidden ‘canker’ or ‘spot’ (95.3). The canker or spot within the Rose symbolises the potential for sensation to become the subject of thought or language through the act of ‘naming’ (95.3, 95.8). The singular beauty of the Rose is likened to the state of the youth before he is ‘named’. Beauty, as a singular sensation, is logically distinct from the dynamic of language in which naming is a prerequisite.
If beauty is equivalent to a singular sensation, then ‘that tongue’ (95.5), or language, is the process that discriminates between sensations to establish the truth dynamic. The canker, hidden from view in the ‘bud’ (95.3), provides the potential for a ‘story’of ‘praise’ and ‘dispraise’ (95.7). The possibility of telling a ‘story’, or using language, comes with ‘naming thy name’ (95.8). This simple act sets up the dynamic of language (or truth) as the perpetual dynamic between right and wrong. It establishes the logical relationship between ‘blessings’ and ‘ills’ (95.8). The derivation of this possibility from the increase argument is hinted at (in brackets) in the relation of ‘tongue’ to the ‘lascivious’ comments on the youth’s ‘sport’ (95.6) or sexual inclinations. The youth’s potential for beauty and truth is derived from his logical basis in increase.
The Poet then reinforces the connection of beauty to sensations. Beauty is the possibility of any sensation, of which ‘seeing’ (95.12) is the most representative and the most discriminate. So when the youth uses the ‘mansion’ of his beauty to cover the ‘blot’ of his ‘vices’ (95.9) ‘all things turns to fair, that eyes can see’ (95.12).
The couplet concludes with a warning to the youth that he should ‘take heed’ of beauty’s ‘large privilege’. If he abuses its privilege he will ‘lose his edge’, just like the ‘hardest knife’ when it is ‘ill used’.
Some say thy fault is youth, some wantonness,The previous sonnet, 95, considered ‘beauty’, and presented it in the image of the fragrant ‘Rose’, which potentially has a ‘canker’ in its bud. The term beauty is representative of sensations, which have the potential to be named in language and so discriminated one from the other. If the youth does not appreciate the ‘privilege’ or logical implications of his ‘beauty’ then he cannot appreciate its logical relationship to language.
If sonnet 95 considered the truth and beauty dynamic from the vantage of ‘beauty’, sonnet 96 considers it from the vantage of ‘truth’ (96.8). It begins by considering what ‘some say’ (96.1). Here, as consistent with the rest of the Sonnets, ‘saying’ introduces the idea of language, or the dynamic of truth. The Poet suggests ‘some say’ the youth’s ‘fault’ is in his ‘youth and wantonness’ (96.1), whereas ‘some’ others ‘say’ there is ‘grace’ in his ‘youth and gentle sport’ (96.2). The same qualities are said by some to be faults and by others to be graces. Because the same person can be said to have both faults and graces, then anyone loving that person loves both, ‘more or less’ (96.3). The beauty of youth, or the effect he has on the senses, blurs the distinction for those who ‘resort to thee’ (96.4), between ‘faults’ and ‘graces’.
The Poet acknowledges that even a base Jewel ‘will be well esteemed’ (96.6) on the finger of a ‘Queen’. The ‘errors’ (96.7) that are ‘seen’, or sensed, like a hidden canker in the sensation of the youth’s beauty, can be ‘translated’ into ‘truths’ (96.8), or named in language, so that what is true or false can be judged or ‘deemed’ to be so. The beauteous youth, or any seeming ideal, has both faults and graces. The truth dynamic enables greater precision in determining what is good and bad in any situation.
If judgment depended on looks, if sensations ruled, then a ‘Wolf ’ could ‘translate’ his ‘looks’ into those of a ‘Lamb’ (96.9). Those who rely only on their senses or their eyes, the ‘gazers’ (96.11), would be led astray if the youth used the full strength of his looks or beauty to confound the dynamic of truth available in language.
The couplet advises the youth against such deceit. The Poet claims the right to tell the truth or use language to make a ‘good report’. Two reasons are given for his power of judgment. His ‘love’ for the youth is of ‘such sort’ because the truth and beauty dynamic is founded on increase, the logical basis for love. Second, because he was once a youth (‘as thou being mine’) he recognises that what is true of the youth was once true of himself.
How like a Winter hath my absence beenAlthough some commentators find sonnet 94 enigmatic and elusive, these commentaries show that by respecting the inherent philosophy of the Sonnets sonnet 94 is readily understood. They show also that sonnet 95 deals with the logic of beauty, and sonnet 96 with the logic of truth. Now, to complete the logical dynamic, sonnet 97 deals with increase.
Traditional commentators’ ignorance of the increase/truth and beauty dynamic based in nature prevents them from understanding these sonnets. What is more, they arbitrarily decide that the influence of the so-called ‘marriage sonnets’ does not extend beyond sonnet 17. Sonnet 97 is one of many that prove they prejudge the meaning of the Sonnets. After all, the word increase is mentioned in line 6.
In sonnet 97, the Poet compares his absence from the youth to ‘Winter’ (97.1) whereas youth is compared to ‘summer’s time’ (97.5). While it is possible to read winter and summer as psychological states of the Poet and youth, in the logic of the Sonnets, winter and summer are metaphors for the advanced years of the Poet and the vitality of the youth. The metaphors are consistent with other such references throughout the Sonnets to the seasons, which depict the relative potential for increase of the Poet and the youth.
The wording of sonnet 97 confirms the logical reading. While the Poet experiences the winter of old age, the youth should be ‘teeming with rich increase’ in ‘this time’ (97.5), or summer’s time leading on to ‘Autumn’. As the Poet and his kind age and die, it is through the willingness of youth to increase that humankind persists. Youth can be compared to ‘widowed wombs’ that survive their ‘Lord’s decease’ (97.8). The metaphor gives the logical sense of continuation across generations, and connects to the logic of ‘love’ from sonnet 9.
The substance of the Poet’s complaint is that the youth is ‘away’ or unwilling to acknowledge his natural functions. Because of the youth’s intransigence, the ‘abundant issue’ (97.9) evident all around becomes the ‘hope of orphans’ or ‘unfathered fruit’ (97.10). Summer and its ‘pleasures’ still wait on him. ‘The very birds are mute’ (97.12) because the youth is not responding to his sexual logic.
In the couplet, if the birds sing at all it is ‘with dull cheer’ in anticipation of the youth’s own winter without increase. The focus on increase at this stage in the youth sequence, following the two sonnets on truth and beauty, is in keeping with the logical dynamic for truth and beauty set up by the logic of the 14 increase sonnets at the beginning of the set.
From you have I been absent in the spring,Although sonnet 98 is logically connected to sonnet 99 with a ‘thus’, the connection serves a different purpose than with other logically joined sonnets. Sonnet 99 uses the imagery and arguments of 98 to make a pointed statement about intellectual piracy. The novelty of 99 is considered in the next commentary.
Sonnet 98 revisits the seasonal imagery of winter and spring from sonnet 97. It continues the arguments about the unwillingness of the youth to develop his potential to maturity. The Poet’s advancing age is represented as ‘absence’ from the fertility of spring, which is associated with the ‘spirit of youth’ (98.3). The spirit of regeneration, so pervasive in spring, makes even ‘heavy Saturn’ laugh and leap. Yet, the Poet admits, nothing could make him tell a ‘summer’s story’ (98.7). The songs of the ‘birds’ and the ‘sweet smell of different flowers’ do not incline him to ‘pluck’ (98.8) the flowers to celebrate the bounty of spring.
But the Poet neither ‘wonders’ at the ‘lilies’ white’ (98.9) nor does he praise the ‘deep vermilion in the Rose’ (98.10). In the Sonnets, the whiteness of the lily is a symbol for the sense of purity or the unattainable ideal, and the Rose is the symbol for beauty or the sensory processes in general. Neither the ideal suggested by the lily nor the sensuality suggested by the Rose has meaning for the Poet while he is ‘absent’ (98.1) from the spring in the youth. For the Poet, the flowers of spring are but reminders of the youth’s potential. They gain their ‘sweetness’ as ‘figures of delight’ (98.11) only when they are compared to the youth’s potential as a human being.
The couplet reveals why. Despite the Poet’s enthusiasm for the energies of spring it is as if ‘Winter’ still prevailed. The youth, as in sonnet 97, is ‘away’ from his natural potential. The youth’s reluctance to acknowledge the significance of his spring-like potential to increase, leaves the Poet feeling he has been ‘playing’ with the youth’s ‘shadow’. The natural cycle of winter, spring, summer, autumn, has no meaning if the youth cannot learn the simple lesson about the naturalness of increase, or appreciate the logical requirement to increase evident in the world about.
The forward violet thus did I chide,Evidence from the early plays and poems suggests Shakespeare developed his philosophy at an early period in his life. One of the formative experiences may be alluded to in sonnet 99, the only sonnet in the set with fifteen lines. Although Shakespeare’s purpose in publishing the Sonnets in 1609 was to present his philosophy, it is still possible to see through the philosophy to the original allusion. Similar cryptic allusions may have been made to Queen Elizabeth as the ‘mortal Moon’ in sonnet 107, an incident involving Robert Greene in sonnet 112, the evils of the Church in sonnet 129, and the name of Anne Hathaway in sonnet 145.
Of similar interest to sonnet 99 is sonnet 112 with its apparent condemnation of Robert Greene who, in 1592, called Shakespeare an ‘upstart crow’. Sonnet 112 has the same tone as sonnet 99. Phrases like o’er-greene, vulgar scandal, shames and praises, critic and flatterer, suggest a sonnet penned in response to Greene’s libel.
The previous commentary also noted the similarities between sonnet 98 and 99. With its ‘thus’ (99.1), sonnet 99 develops the argument of sonnet 98. It sustains the imagery of the ‘Lily’ and ‘Rose’ from sonnet 98 but introduces strongly evaluative words such as ‘forward violet’, ‘thief ’, ‘steal’, ‘condemned’, ‘stolen’, ‘blushing shame’, ‘white despair’, and ‘robbery’. Evidence that at least some of the sonnets were written earlier and then revised for publication in Q comes from two of Shakespeare’s sonnets, 138 and 144, that William Jaggard published in The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599. In sonnet 144, for instance, ‘side’ is altered to ‘sight’ to accentuate the logic of the eyes in Shakespeare’s philosophy.
So when in 1612 Thomas Heywood recorded that Shakespeare was ‘much offended’ by Jaggard’s publication of The Passionate Pilgrim, Jaggard had not only pirated Shakespeare’s sonnets but also attributed to him other sonnets and poems. Commentators miss the connection between Jaggard and sonnet 99. They do not hear Shakespeare’s admitting to his shame, ‘our blushing shame’ (99.9), at having another’s verse attributed to him. They reduce the meaning of ‘our’ by emending it to a simplistic ‘one’.
Some dismiss sonnet 99 as an inferior sonnet because it has 15 lines. But the sonnet is in keeping with the play on numbers evident throughout the set. If Shakespeare added an extra line to highlight the piracy of Jaggard, the 15 lines of sonnet 99 drive home the point that in ‘1599’ Jaggard stole the poems and now Shakespeare wishes a ‘vengeful canker eat him up to death’ (99.13). (See also Volume 1, Part 5.)
Where art thou Muse that thou forget'st so long,Sonnet 100 is the first sonnet since the alien Poet group (78 to 86) to mention the Muse. The Muse was introduced in sonnet 21 at the beginning of the truth and beauty sequence to the youth. She then featured in sonnet 32 and a further 3 times in sonnet 38. A distinction was made in sonnet 38 between the 9 Muses of old and the 1 extra Muse identified by the Poet as ‘the tenth Muse’ for a mature understanding. The Muse then occurs 5 times in the 9 alien Poet sonnets where the youth is further encouraged to mature his understanding. Sonnets 100 to 103 are the final group of sonnets to use the metaphor of the Muse to personify the truth and beauty dynamic to the youth. The Muse is mentioned 3 times in both sonnets 100 and 101 and again in 103.
Coinciding with the final appearances of the Muse is a reiteration of the increase/truth and beauty dynamic in sonnets 101 to 104. Sonnet 101 gives the definitive relation between the role of the Muse and the dynamic of truth and beauty. As the representative of truth, or the process of deciding between right and wrong through the use of language, the Muse is associated with the capacity to say, or speak, or argue. This is in contrast to the Rose that represents beauty, or the sensory processes epitomised by seeing. Because the Muse ‘speaks’ (100.2) she can also ‘forget’ (100.1), give a ‘pen both skill and argument’ (100.8), inspire verse organised numerologically into ‘gentle numbers’ (100.6), and incite ‘Satire’ (100.11).
In sonnet 100 the Poet questions the Muse (of ‘old’) about her failure to ‘speak’ of ‘that which gives thee all thy might’ (100.2). He accuses her of spending her ‘fury’on ‘worthless song’ and ‘darkening thy power’by allowing ‘base subjects light’ (100.4). Because the 9 Muses of old represent the intellectual skills, and not the logical relationship the Poet recognises between increase and truth and beauty, taken alone they distort the function of truth and beauty. The immature, idealistic youth and the inferior Poets are alike in wasting their ‘fury’ (100.3).
If the Muse ‘returned’ (100.5), mindful of her ability to inspire ‘gentle numbers’, then her ‘lays’ would be ‘esteemed’ (100.7) because they would present both ‘skill and argument’. If poetry is not based on sound philosophy it is ‘worthless’. Only a Muse who can argue that the increase dynamic is prior to truth and beauty can ‘make time’s spoils despised every where’ (100.12).
In the couplet, the way to ‘prevent’ time’s ‘scythe’ and give love ‘fame faster than time wastes life’ is to respect the dynamic of ‘life’.
Oh truant Muse what shall be thy amends,In sonnet 100, where the word Muse occurs 3 times, the Poet chastises the Muse for failing to use both ‘skill and argument’ with the youth. In sonnet 101 the Muse is again mentioned three times, this time more specifically in terms of ‘truth’ in relation to ‘beauty’. The Poet asks the Muse ‘what shall be thy amends’ for neglecting ‘truth’ (101.2). Her neglect allows truth to die in an excess of beauty typical of idealistic youth. Truth perishes when skill alone is used to record the youth’s beauty. For truth to live in beauty, both argument and skill are required, as the mature Poet’s ‘love’ depends on ‘both truth and beauty’ (101.3). The youth’s ‘Muse’ would be more ‘dignified’ if hers did too (101.4).
The Poet challenges the Muse (‘make answer Muse’) to ‘haply say’ (101.5) what she knows of truth and beauty. If she respects natural logic she would understand the truth and beauty dynamic. Unlike beauty, truth is not a sensation. It needs no ‘colour’ because its colour is ‘fixed’ (101.6) by what is said. And beauty, unlike truth, needs no ‘pencil’ because its unspeakable ‘truth’ is best transmitted through a ‘lay’ or music (101.7).
Truth and beauty are ‘best’ when their logical roles are not ‘intermixed’ (101.8). So the Poet accuses the Muse of playing ‘dumb’, as if the youth’s beauty is beyond ‘praise’ (101.9). Yet such beauty cannot ‘excuse’ her ‘silence’. It ‘lies’ with her to convince the youth of his capacity to ‘outlive a gilded tomb’ in ‘ages yet to be’ (101.12). In the couplet, the Muse must do her natural ‘office’ to ensure the youth’s ‘show’ shines ‘long hence’ through increase.
Sonnet 101 presents one of Shakespeare’s clearest definitions of truth and beauty. Truth is the dynamic of saying as in writing (pencil), while beauty is any form of sensation as in seeing colours. He defines truth and beauty to show how the 9 Muses of old (sonnet 38), who inspired poets to beauty in their verse, have ignored beauty’s logical complement, truth. The 9 Muses of old inspire the inadequate and immature understanding of the youth and the alien Poets, who are associated with the number 9. The Poet’s Muse is the 1 extra Muse (sonnet 38) who appreciates the relation of beauty and truth as presented in the Mistress sonnets. There is 1 extra Muse because the Mistress has the value ‘1’. The youth’s ‘9’ requires this further ‘1’ from the Mistress to achieve maturity (9+1 = 10 = 1+0 = 1).
Traditional readings interpret the ‘died’ of line 2 as ‘dyed’ out of an ignorance of the truth and beauty dynamic. Shakespeare’s logical understanding of truth and beauty, based in the processes of life, provides the corrective for traditional misunderstandings.
My love is strengthened though more weak in seeming,In sonnets 100 and 101 the Muse was mentioned 6 times. Sonnet 100 encouraged her to inspire the youth with ‘both skill and argument’: skill to represent the youth’s ‘sweet face’, and argument to appreciate the source of and implications of his beauty. Sonnet 101 accused her of neglecting truth because of an infatuation with his beauty.
Sonnet 102 provides a commentary on the ideas articulated in 100 and 101. The Muse is not mentioned in 102 but her presence is required to give meaning to the otherwise confusing ‘his’ and ‘her’ in lines 8, 10 and 12. The Muse occurs again in sonnet 103 before sonnet 104 reiterates the increase argument. In these sonnets the Poet uses his ‘pen’ to argue that the youth’s Muse should use her power of inspiration to elevate the youth’s understanding above a fascination with ideal beauty by identifying the logical source of language in the increase process within the encompassing dynamic of nature.
Sonnet 102 examines the conditions for the ‘love’ (102.1) the Poet experiences if the Muse honours the dynamic of truth and beauty based in increase and nature. He finds his ‘love’ is ‘strengthened’, even though the form of ‘love’ he advocates may ‘seem weak’compared to idealised love. He ‘loves not less’ (102.2) simply because he bases his love in the logic of increase and nature. Such deep-seated love is less ‘showy’ than that which is ‘merchandised’ and ‘published’ (102.3) everywhere as ‘love’ by the selfish ‘owner’s tongue’ (102.4). Such showy love is transitory and merely gives the ‘appearance’ of ‘richness’.
The Poet wants to ‘greet’ the ‘spring’ of ‘our new love’ with his ‘lays’ (102.6). For the youth as much as for the Poet, ‘spring’ or the beginning of life through increase, establishes the logical source of love. But, with a degree of sympathy for the wayward Muse, and in imitation of ‘Philomel’ the nightingale who only sings in spring or ‘summer’s front’, the Poet ‘stops his pipe’ as the ‘days ripen’ or mature (102.8). (Philomela was turned into a nightingale after she was raped and had her tongue cut out.)
Summer is no less ‘pleasant now’ (102.9) than when ‘Philomel’, like the Muse, ‘did once hush the night’ with ‘her mournful hymns’(102.10). Except that, if love’s source in increase were neglected, ‘sweets grown common’ could ‘lose their dear delight’ (102.12).
In the couplet, the Poet, like ‘her’, has to balance his duty to truth (he ‘sometimes’ holds his ‘tongue’) because his mature ‘song’ might unduly ‘dull’ the idealism of youth.
Alack what poverty my Muse brings forth,Sonnets 100 and 101 considered the Muse’s duty toward truth and beauty. If the Muse is willing to indulge her fascination with the youth’s beauty, she should also be prepared to argue the ‘truth’ about the source of his beauty. Because human beings would cease to exist without increase, truth and beauty derive their logical dynamic from increase.
Sonnet 102 then addressed the consequence of the Poet having to argue with the youth about something so obvious. The dynamic of increase is written all over the youth because he was born of a mother and a father (sonnets 3 and 13) and humankind is dependant on increase for posterity. His beauty, and the dynamic of truth, is a consequence of increase.
In sonnet 76, the Poet acknowledged the persistent repetition evident in the Sonnets. He is aware he argues constantly against the illogical consequences of elevating the ideal beauty of youth into an end in itself, apart from nature. His argument is necessary and persistent because of the tendency of the human mind even more persistently to imagine ideal worlds and then consider them more real than the dynamic of life.
Sonnet 103 laments the need to remind the Muse of her responsibilities. Having exhorted her to ‘argue’ truth with the youth, the Poet ameliorates the impact of his words by acknowledging the ‘poverty’ of his ‘praise’ (103.1). The youth’s natural ‘argument all bare’ is ‘of more worth’ than the Muse’s ‘pride’ (103.2) and the Poet’s ‘added praise beside’ (103.4).
The Poet excuses his ‘dull’ poetry in the face of the overwhelming argument of the youth’s ‘face’ (103.6). Youth’s natural beauty, as the consequence of increase, has the effect of ‘dulling’ the Poet’s lines and ‘blunting his invention quite’ (103.7). The Poet recalls sonnets 15 to 19, which state the priority of increase over truth and beauty, and the inability of his poetry to replicate the natural cycle.
Shakespeare, even as an acclaimed poet, knows his writing cannot logically substitute for the life force of the youth. He suggests it would be ‘sinful’ to imagine his verse could do more than ‘mar the subject that before was well’ (103.10). He has no intention to ‘mend’ the youth’s looks, but rather to tell of all his ‘graces and gifts’ (103.12).
In the couplet, the Poet acknowledges that his poetry cannot substitute for the youth’s capacity to increase, or create a copy of himself as he appears in the ‘glass’. He cannot ‘fit’ the youth into his verse because the youth’s beauty implies ‘more, much more’.
To me fair friend you never can be old,After the Poet defines truth and beauty in sonnets 100 to 101, and then considers the relationship between the youth’s inherent beauty and the Poet’s argument in sonnets 102 to 103, he revisits the increase argument in sonnet 104. The youth can ‘never be old’ (104.1) because increase, the prerogative of youth, ensures humankind renews itself generation after generation. The perpetuation of beauty through increase is logically prior to the potential of the mind to imagine ideal beauty.
For the Poet, the youth is still the same as when ‘first your eye I eyed’ (104.2). With his eyes, the Poet reads the eyes of the youth, or reads his own eyes as if in a youthful mirror (104.2). He recalls the moment when he ‘first’ acknowledged the significance of the ‘I’ of youth, and comprehended the logical relation between the dynamic of the body and the dynamic of the mind. The potential for the realisation of the ‘I’ of identity is intermediate between the period of youth and the period of maturity.
The three-part process provides a temporal relationship between the idealistic youth, the logical awareness of identity, and the fulfillment of maturity. In the Poet’s mind the 3 phases can be represented as three rounds of seasons, or a period of three years. The ‘beauty’, or greenness, of youth is an ineradicable feature of the Poet’s early experience despite the three periods or ‘years’ of development and despite the inevitable cycle of birth to death, typified by the cycle of the seasons.
‘Since first I saw you fresh’ (104.8) reiterates the three part dynamic ‘when first your eye I eyed’. The Poet notes that, since he first saw the youth ‘fresh’ and ‘green’ (104.9), his appearance has not changed over three years (104.7). Many commentators look to this sonnet to determine the date when Shakespeare and a friend first met. But the three-year span can be a period of time in which a young adult does not change significantly in appearance. The Poet says that, despite the seeming agelessness of the youth, beauty like a ‘Dial (clock) hand steals’ youth ‘from his figure’ at ‘no pace perceived’ (104.10). Although the youth may seem to ‘stand still’, he ‘hath motion’ even if the Poet’s ‘eye’ is ‘deceived’ (104.12) when it comes to noticing the subtle changes, that are consequences increase.
In the couplet he warns the youth, ‘for fear’, that he remains ‘age unbred’ or without offspring at his age. It is already inherent in the process of nature and increase that before he was born ‘beauty’s summer’, as part of the cycle of seasons, is implicitly ‘dead’. Rather than foster a mirage of an eternal summer, Shakespeare’s Sonnets value the processes of life that ensure continued life for humankind in nature.
Let not my love be called Idolatry,The five previous sonnets reiterated the three-part natural dynamic of increase, truth and beauty, which is the foundation for the profound ‘love’ the Poet has toward the youth. Now in sonnet 105, the Poet asks that his ‘love’ not be called ‘Idolatry’ (105.1). Because his love is based on nature’s unity, he is not inclined to ‘Idolatry’. Nor can the youth be called an ‘Idol’ (105.2) because, as the male entity in the Sonnets, he (like any male Idol) lacks the required unity.
The youth, at 126 = 9, is ‘one’ short of unity. As a male, separated from the female, he needs to reunite with her ‘one’ to regain his unity. The oneness and ‘constancy’ (105.7) of nature (logically female because Nature, the sovereign mistress, is 154 = 1, and the Mistress is 28 = 1) gives the Poet’s ‘love’ its constancy. His ‘songs and praises’ are ‘all alike’, ‘to one, of one, still such, and ever so’ (105.4), because his logic is based in nature.
The Poet then defines his use of the word ‘kind’by revitalising the cliché ‘fair, kind, and true’ (105.9). He has already characterised the ‘fair’ and the ‘true’. In the first line of sonnet 1, ‘from fairest creatures we desire increase’, fair has both a sense of beauty and of judicious balance. Throughout the Sonnets truth is what can be said to be true or false. So here the Poet avows his love is of a ‘constant’ kind (105.6) - with 'kind' referencing the Old English 'birth' or 'nature'. ‘My love’ is kind ‘today’ and kind ‘tomorrow’ (105.5), because it is ‘constant in a wondrous excellence’ and expresses ‘one thing’ (105.8).
The Poet’s verse is ‘confined’ to ‘constancy’ (105.7) because his understanding of love is based in the constant logic of life. (The ‘my love’ of line 5 does not, as some claim, refer to the youth.) By basing his understanding in all encompassing nature, where good and evil are in perpetual balance, the ‘one’ of nature avoids the ‘difference’ or dissension typical of beliefs based on male idols.
So ‘fair, kind, and true’ are the variant ‘words’ for truth, constancy through increase, and beauty (105.10). With ‘this change’ to the old cliché the Poet’s ‘invention is spent’ (105.11). He can do no more than show the deeper meaning behind the cliché. The ‘three themes’, beauty, increase, and truth, are in ‘one’, or nature, because she ‘affords’ all the ‘scope’ (105.12) for life, including its idle thoughts of Idols.
In the couplet, the Poet, by bringing the three elements together, revitalises three clichéd words that ‘have often lived alone’ in ‘Idolatry’ or old beliefs. They have ‘never till now’ been resolved into the unity typified by the philosophy of the Sonnets. For Shakespeare, the natural dynamic of beauty, increase and truth ‘is all my argument’ (105.8).
118-129 130-141 142-153 154 Emendations