Monday, 6 December 2010

Sonnet 14

Not from the stars do I my judgement pluck;
And yet, methinks, I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind;
Or say with princes if it shall go well
By aught predict that I in heaven find;
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive
If from thyself, to store thou would convert:
Or else of thee this I prognosticate,
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.

First quatrain
The speaker says that he doesn’t draw his conclusions from the stars, but even so he understands astrology, although not to foretell good or bad luck, of plagues, shortages, or the nature of the forthcoming seasons.
2. I have astronomy: i.e I have knowledge of astronomy

Second quatrain
Nor is he able to predict the future down to the last minute, stating exactly when there will be thunder, rain and wind; or say whether certain rulers will be fortunate by means of frequent predictions which he reads in the stars.
8. oft predict: KDJ has amended to aught, on the grounds that oft is almost never used as an adjective, and this is the only recorded use of predict as a noun. But others have stayed with oft, admitting its rarity. SB: ‘The perversity of the diction and the awkwardly elliptical style suggest the pompous obfuscation of a smug hack.’ Not sure I agree with him, but what a wonderful comment!

Third quatrain
Instead, the speaker says, he derives his knowledge from the beloved’s eyes. They are like constant/unmoving stars, and in them he can read/discover such learning to the effect that truth (constancy) and beauty (external) will thrive together if the beloved were to turn away from self-adoration/gratification and convert to providing for the future (store).
9-10: this idea is typically Elizabethan but most particularly from Sidney in Arcadia: ‘O sweet Philoclea…thy heavenly face is my Astronomie’ and here, in Astrophel and Stella no.26:

Though dusty wits dare scorn astrology,
And fools can think those lamps of purest light
Whose numbers, ways, greatness, eternity,
Promising wonders, wonder to invite,
To have for no cause birthright in the sky,
But for to spangle the black weeds of night;
Or for some brawl, which in that chamber high
They should dance, to please a gazer's sight:
For me, I do Nature unidle know,
And know great causes great effects procure,
And know those bodies high reign on the low.
And if these rules did fail, proof makes me sure,
Who oft fore-judge my after-following race
By only those two eyes in Stella's face.

12: convert: (a) turn your attention (b) change. Note pronunciation: 'convart'.

If not the speaker says that he predicts for the beloved that his death will also be truth and beauty’s final fate and stipulated limit (in time).
14. cf The Pheonix and Turtle, ll.62-64: 'Truth may seem, but cannot be, / Beauty brag, but 'tis not she, / Truth and Beauty buried be.’
HV comments that this is the first instance of the linked words truth and beauty in the sonnets.

Links to other works by WS:
14: The Phoenix and Turtle, ll.62-64

Links to works by other authors:
Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella, 26

Monday, 22 November 2010

Sonnet 13

O that you were yourself! But, love, you are
No longer yours, than you yourself here live;
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O none but unthrifts, dear my love you know:
You had a father, let your son say so.

There is a debate about the use of you over thou here – it is the first sonnet in the sequence to do so. SB argues that this is a move towards intimacy, but there is much confusion about this and WS appears to use the terms interchangeably in the sonnets, except for the Dark Lady sequence where (except 145 which is unique for other reasons) he only uses thou. GBE concludes: ‘it seems to me very doubtful that, in general, such variations should be taken as signalling significant changes in attitude or tone’. My view is that the more of WS' sonnets I read the more I understand that this is not a sequence in the way that other sonnet sequences are organised, but more as a collection of poems, possibly in different voices, to different subjects. Such issues only become significant if the reader is intent on imposing a narrative on the group as a whole.

HV concentrates more on the tone of the poem, noting that this is the first ‘momentous instant in which the speaker first uses evocatives of love: he addresses the young man as love and dear my love. The sonnet is Italianate: the octave argues for the preservation of the individual self, the sestet for preservation of family lineage.

It is also the first of the many ‘reply-sonnets', in which it appears that the speaker (s) is answering a point put to him by the beloved(s).


First quatrain
Oh, that you were in good health/ that your identity was fixed. But, my love, you are only in possession of yourself for as long as you remain alive. You should prepare yourself in anticipation of death, and replicate a likeness of yourself in someone else.
1-4:  GBE provides a useful paraphrase: ‘O if only the whole you were composed of soul (‘self’) and hence immortal (there would be no cause for concern), but ‘you’ are a combination of soul and body and, as such, your bodily part is mortal and subject to death (‘this coming end’)’.
1. JK: ‘The first yourself is an imagined absolute, beyond chance and Time, the latter quotidian, subject to the decay described by Sonnet 12’.
2. here: in the world, with poss play on ‘heir’.
4. semblance: image, copy (with implication that this image would perpetuate both parts, spiritual and physical, of ‘you’)

Second quatrain
In that case that beauty which you hold by lease, i.e. only temporarily, would find no end/conclusion/termination. Then yourself would survive beyond your death, when your sweet offspring should bear your sweet – essential – form.
5. beauty: both inner and outer (GBE)
6. determination: in legal language, an estate held in lease determines at the end of a fixed term; one held for life determines at the death of the holder (SB).
7. again: SB sees a possible pun on 'a gain' – and that WS ‘is pressing the idea of investment for every dram of wit it will yield…this sonnet is cast in terms of profitable property management.’
8. sweet form: precious image – GBE: ‘with perhaps some reference to the Scholastic concept of something which contains the ‘essential determinant principle’. GBE comments on ‘the frequent and rather tiresome repetition’ in the sonnets of sweet - may be a legacy of Petrarch’s ‘dolce’, ‘dolcemente’, ‘dolcezza’ and other related forms. However, I feel that the word itself has suffered from recent bad press and is about purity and essence instead of cuteness; as such the repetition is to be marked but not resisted.

Third quatrain
Who lets such a beautiful body/family line go to waste, which good management might support in an honourable state/perpetuate through ‘an honourable estate’ of matrimony, in anticipation of the bad effects of old age (‘winter’) and the barrenness of death.
9. lets: allows, with quibble on lease
10. house: cf. roof in 10 – both his body and his lineage
12. barren rage: WS often uses rage where he means lust/desire/passion
cf. Lucrece ll. 464-69:
His hand that yet remains upon her breast,
Rude ram, to batter such an ivory wall! -
May feel her heart, poor citizen! Distress'd,
Wounding itself to death, rise up and fall, -
Beating her bulk, that his hand shakes withal:
This moves in him more rage and lesser pity,
To make the breach and enter this sweet city.

SB considers that in this sonnet barren is used as an adjective signifying effect and cause – so it is a barren-making passion.

O none but prodigals/spendthrifts do that – you had a father, create a son that will say the same.
13-14: Q’s punctuation is ambiguous here. The intimacy of 'dear my love you know', confirms the intimate use of you is intended in the sonnet (JK).

Links with other works by WS
12. Lucrece, ll.463 - 469

Monday, 15 November 2010

Sonnet 12

When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silvered o’er with white:
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow,
And nothing ‘gainst time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed to brave him, when he takes thee hence.

There are several works that WS kept for constant reference on his desk; one of them was Ovid's Metamorphoses, which it he knew both in the Latin and in Arthur Golding's 1567 translation – and, depending on the vocabulary/phraseology he uses we can sometimes tell which version he is thinking of at the time. Here, Book 15 ll. 221-237 applies, with its comparison of the passing of time in Nature and human life:

What? Seest thou not how that the yeere as representing playne
The age of man, departes itself in quarters fowre? First bayne
And tender in the spring it is, even like a sucking babe.
Then greene, and voyd of strength, and lush, and foggye, is the blade,
And cheeres the husbandman with hope. Then all things florish gay.
The earth with flowres of sundry hew then seemeth for to play,
And vertue small or none to herbes there dooth as yit belong.
The yeere from springtyde passing foorth to sommer, wexeth strong,
Becommeth lyke a lusty youth. For in our lyfe through out
There is no tyme more plentifull, more lusty, hote and stout. ...
Then followeth Harvest when the heate of youth growes sumwhat cold,
Rype, meeld, disposed meane betwixt a yoongman and an old,
And sumwhat sprent with grayish heare. Then ugly winter last
Like age steales on with trembling steppes, all bald, or overcast
With shirle thinne heare as whyght as snowe. Our bodies also ay
Doo alter still from tyme to tyme, and never stand at stay.
Wee shall not bee the same wee were today or yisterday.

(The full text of Golding's translation can be found at: But you can also buy one – so much better for annotating – see Additional Reading blog (Jan 2010).

Time with its unstoppable tyranny, as we have already seen in Sonnets 2 & 5, is one of WS' major preoccupations. It is probably no accident that when the sequence was assembled, this sonnet was numbered 12, just as 30 and 60 are also concerned with the passing of time. This does, though, also have wider implications for the publication of the sonnets – who did it, who ordered them, and in particular whether Shakespeare knew about it. While I believe it is more appropriate to consider these sonnets not so much as a sequence as a collection, there are undeniable patterns and groups, some of which are centred on numbering.

First quatrain
The speaker says that when he counts the clock chimes telling the time and sees the splendid day sunk into obscure/fearful night; when he sees the violet past its best, and black hair turned to white....
1. tells: utters; counts/measures out. Both hearing and sight remind the speaker of the inexorable march of Time the Destroyer against ‘beauty’.
2. brave: resplendent
hideous: KDJ compares with Sonnets 5&6 and argues that there may be an association with hidden = causing dread or horror
3. violet: sometimes associated with faithfulness, WS uses the flower elsewhere, as KDJ points out, to do with the vulnerability of youth as in Hamlet 1.3.7ff (Laertes warning Ophelia about Hamlet's interest in her): 'A violet in the youth of primy nature, / Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, / The perfume and suppliance of a minute.' More widely, it is also linked with the Virgin Mary as a symbol of her chastity.
past prime: past its best; when the spring is over; also originally associated with the first hour of the day and then by extension, spring or youth (KDJ). This from V&A, 131-2: 'Fair flowers that are not gathered in their prime / Rot and consume themselves in little time.'

The first quatrain is interesting for 1) its metre – the first line is all monosyllables, reflecting the ticking of a clock 2) the repetition of when, the time related word that will carry on into the second quatrain and 'convert' to then in the third.

Second quatrain
When the speaker sees tall trees bare of leaves, which formerly sheltered the herd from the heat, and summer’s greenery all bound up in sheaves, borne on the barrow, now turned white and bristly...
5. barren: unusual in the sense of barren leaves – more usually about fruit – recalls the chill landscape of bareness everywhere in 5.8 (CB); cf.11.10: barrenly perish. I wonder also if there is a reference to writing here, found in the pairing of barren and leaves - perhaps a sense of inspiration drying up.....writers, WS included (e.g Sonn 77) often use the metaphor of childbirth about their writing output.
6. canopy: this is its first cited use as a verb in the OED.
6-8. The combination of senses (of bier) turns harvest into a funeral, as the friend turns opportunities for reproduction into self-love (CB). There is also the Elizabethan idea of the harvest-home in which the last sheaf of grain was brought to the barn with great ceremony and celebration (SB).
Keats wrote in the margin of his copy of the sonnets, next to the account of summer’s bier: ‘Is this to be borne: Hark ye!’ [source: HV]
8. bier: a) handbarrow for carrying harvested grain; b) stand for a corpse cf. Hamlet 4.5.164: 'They bore him bare-faced upon the bier'.
beard: 'hair' (of such grains as wheat). It should perhaps be pronounced more like 'bird' – WS rhymes heard and beard in LLL 2.1.201/2.

Third quatrain
Then do I ask about the survival of your beauty, when you have to go ‘among the wastes of time’ – become one of the things destroyed by time, since virtue and beauty change/depart from themselves/give themselves up (to death)/lose their essential qualities, and decay/die just as quickly/steadily as they see others grow.

In her essay on this sonnet HV is most interested in the idea of sweets and beauties – esp sweets – she sees them as standing for inward virtue and outward show – ‘when we look back to see what proof we have for that interest in the poem, we behold, as if for the first time, the kindly trees sheltering the grateful herd’ – they stand for something sweet as well as participating in the list of ‘fading beauties’. She goes on: ‘The major aesthetic inventions of sonnet 12 are thus the decision to add sweets to beauties, and its corollary, the model of freely chosen acquiescence in one’s own death in favour of one’s children. ...If the young man is to be a creature of human worth, he must be virtuous, must not rail against but acquiesce morally in his own extermination, and must defy, by biologically reinforcing Nature’s increase, the power of Time to decrease value. Against the euphemistic view of Time by which things are said merely to sink or fade past their prime, the poem bravely faces up to the aggressive destructive power manifesting itself through Time the reaper; and against an aestheticism that would deplore only aging and the loss of beauty, the poem sets a moral elegy that deplores the eventual disappearance of sweet virtue, as well.’

I have found this interpretation of 'sweet' most useful when reading the sonnets (and elsewhere in WS). It gives more weight to a word that in the 21st century conjures images connected with pink and little girls. Here HV recognises that it has a completely different weight instead to do with measures of inner worth as well as outward beauty.
Nothing can then take a stand against Time’s scythe, except to produce offspring to defy him when he takes you from this place.
13. breed: breed is a noun here = offspring, although there is the ‘hint of a desperate imperative’ (Burr).
14. brave: challenge/defy

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Sonnet 11

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow’st
Thou mayst call thine, when thou from youth convertest;
Herein loves wisdom, beauty and increase:
Without this, folly, age and cold decay.
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
And threescore year would make the world away:
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless and rude, barrenly perish;
Look whom she best endowed, she gave the more,
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carved thee for her seal, and meant thereby
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

One of the most striking features of this sonnet is the shift in metaphor from organic, recalling the early horticultural sonnets, to inorganic – as the speaker now raises the subject of 'print' and 'copy'. HV talks about this extensively,looking at the pattern of waning-and-growing in the sonnet which ends with ‘a “better” metaphor which will not require the disagreeable waning of the beloved – the inorganic metaphor of the seal that prints successive copies.’ In the last 4 lines the sonnet starts to print copies of its own words: gave, gift; bounteous, beauty; more, more; shouldst, shouldst; carved, copy; meant, print – the process of ‘copying is enacted before the reader’s eyes.

Note also the use of feminine rhyme, as in Sonnet 8: this is where the the final syllable of a line is unstressed – and so these lines ‘convey something of a dying fall', and are often used by WS to illustrate vulnerability and/or heightened emotions.

First quatrain
The speaker tells the youth that just as fast as he decays he will also grow in his child, born from that which has left him (blood/seed). And that fresh/youthful blood, which he gave when young, he may call his own, when he is no longer young.
1. fast: quickly and steadily; speedily one of thine: in the person of your child; in the womb of your wife (SB)
departest: give up/surrender, in the sense of semen. (Each orgasm was believed to shorten a man's life!)

3. blood: life

4. convertest: turn aside; left behind. This is pronounced 'convartest', to rhyme with 'departest'. The best recording I have of that is by David Tennant whose Scottish accent perfectly fits the delivery (see Audio List)

Second quatrain
The speaker tells the youth that in this course lies wisdom, beauty and increase, but if he deviates then instead folly, age and cold decay will accrue. If everyone thought the way he does then generations would stop and the sixty years would see the end of the world.
5. Herein: in my advice; in marriage and procreation; in the child itself

7.times: generations

Thomas Wilson, The Art of Rhetoric (1553): 'Let it [marriage] be forbidden...and within few years, all mankind must needs decay forever...Take away marriage, and how many shall remain after a hundred years.'

Third quatrain
Let those whom nature has made worthy of preserving – those that are harsh, featureless and ugly, die without issue. Whomever she well endowed with qualities, she gives more to, which generous gift you should nourish/foster by putting it to use.
9. for store: as a source of increase; as breeding stock (livestock kept for breeding were called ‘store beasts’ [SB]). Store may also be a reference to 'hoarded wealth', looking back to e.g. Sonnet 2.

10. featureless: without marks of distinction, shapeless, ugly
rude: crude, rough, bare

11.Like God in the parable of the talents, Nature gave more to those who already had most –see Matt 25.29:‘For unto everyone that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance; But he hath not, from him shall be taken away, even that which he hath.’ (JK) bounty cherish: foster (take care of) by being bountiful (i.e. prolific); cherish also meant 'guard carefully'; thus this phrase embodies the paradox of several previous sonnets, that of keeping by giving, increasing by diminishing'. (SB)

The speaker tells the youth that Nature designed him as her example of what nature can do – her stamp of authority – and in so doing meant that he should reproduce himself, and so not let the original pattern die.
13. carved: incised, in the context of seal
seal: not the wax, but the stamp which marks it. GBE: ‘The youth is pictured as Nature’s great seal by which she validated (gave authority to) her highest creations, as a monarch did in appending a seal to documents of state.'

KDJ also finds a possible echo of Song of Solomon 8.6.: ‘Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death.’

Links to works by other authors

11. Matt 25.29:

13: Song of Solomon 8.6

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Sonnet 10

For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any,
Who for thyself art so unprovident;
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lov’st is most evident:
For thou art so possessed with murd’rous hate
That ‘gainst thyself thou stick’st not to conspire,
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire:
O change thy thought, that I may change my mind;
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be as thy presence is, gracious and kind;
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove,
Make thee another self for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

Nearly all the editors that I have access to naturally pick up on the important shift in Sonnet 10 to the use of 'I' and 'me' – depending on their own standpoint, then, is the argument as to whether the first person is WS or his 'persona'. I have probably been boring enough on this subject but will say nonetheless that, in the absence of any textual or other evidence, we cannot assume that WS is present here, any more than he is when Hamlet is contemplating suicide or having a dig at the groundlings.

This is of course different to constructing a narrative in the text itself, and there is speculation, for example by JK, that 'On the surface [it is] politely critical, banteringly censorious (as befits a sonnet rebuking a social superior), it conveys a concern commensurate with the growing devotion registered in line 13’s for love of me (with its first use of a first-person pronoun in the sequence, even if oblique).’ While I am resistant to the idea of placing too much weight on the idea of a narrative thread in the sequence there are moments like these, where a group of sonnets seem to fit together (e.g. 1-18; 36ff; 127-154) where there is a perceptible movement in the relationship between the speaker and the beloved. As HV says, WS ‘is especially concerned…to punctuate his sequence with moments of visible drama.’

First quatrain
The speaker chastises the beloved, saying he should be ashamed in denying that he loves anyone, failing to look to the future for himself. While it may be true that he is beloved by many, it is most evident that he himself loves no one.
1.for shame: out of shame; shame on you!; to avoid shame you should deny; from a sense of shame you should deny – SB: ‘all three readings occur one after the other in the sequence of reading.’ It is also worth noting that the word shame also occurs at 9.14, making if not a narrative then at least a cerebral/thematic link between the two sonnets.
bear'st: feel. KDJ makes the point that WS often associates the 'bearing' of love with shame or sin, as in Othello 5.2.240: 'Think on thy sins. They are loves I bear you.' However, she does not carry on that thought to the 'bearing' of children, or the pun that women have to bear the weight of men (e.g as the Nurse does in R&J)

2. unprovident: careless; improvident, failing to look to the future

3. cf 31.1: 'Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts.'

Second quatrain
Because the beloved is so possessed by murderous hate he does not hesitate to conspire against himself, seeking to ruin that beautiful roof which his chief desire should rather be to repair.

5. possessed with: as though invaded by a demon, self-hate

  murd’rous hate: cf 9.14

6. stick’st not: does not hesitate or scruple

7.that beauteous roof: JK: ‘The young man seeks to destroy his lovely body (conventionally the house of the soul) by refusing to increase; he therefore threatens destruction of his family, the house to which he belongs, and possibly (by implication) puts a real roof in jeopardy by leaving his property to chance and decay by neglecting to provide an heir.'

These ideas of the ruined house are found elsewhere, e.g.Marlowe's Hero and Leander: 1st Sestiad, 239ff: ‘Who builds a palace, and rams up the gate, / Shall see it ruinous and desolate: / Ah! Simple Hero, learn thyself to cherish, / Lone women like to empty houses perish.’ There is also this, from Spenser's Ruines of Rome, Sonn 7:

Ye sacred ruines, and ye tragick sights,
Which onely doo the name of Rome retaine,
Olde moniments, which of so famous sprights
The honour yet in ashes doo maintaine:
Triumphant Arcks, spyres neighbours to the skie,
That you to see doth th' heauen it selfe appall,
Alas, by little ye to nothing flie,
The peoples fable, and the spoyle of all:
And though your frames do for a time make warre
Gainst time, yet time in time shall ruinate
Your workes and names, and your last reliques marre.
My sad desires, rest therefore moderate:
For if that time make ende of things so sure,
It also will end the paine, which I endure.

Third quatrain
The speaker appeals directly to the beloved to change his way of thinking so that he can alter his opinion of him. Should hate be lodged in a more beautiful dwelling than gentle love? He asks that the youth lives up his appearance/demeanour – gracious and kind/generous, or at least prove benevolent to himself.

11.kind: JK: for Elizabethan readers this meant generosity to others of human kind and particularly towards kindred – ‘so the word incites the youth to create kin to be kind to.’

Here, then, is the all important first-person reference, which now means that the speaker is being drawn into emotional entanglement with the youth, counting his own opinion worthy of being a motive for the young man to change his ways.

The speaker pleads/demands that the beloved create another one of him, for love of the speaker, so that beauty might always live on in both the youth and his offspring.

13. The reference to the speaker intensifies from that of his opinion counting to his love holding sway over the youth, as he tries to find a way for the the beloved to endure for his sake, rather than just for the world in general. This the first suggestion of a personal relationship between them.

Links to works by other authors
Marlowe: Hero and Leander
Spenser: Ruines of Rome (trans of Du Bellay’s Antiquitez de Rome, 1591)

Monday, 31 May 2010

Sonnet 9

Is it for fear to wet a widow’s eye
That thou consum’st thyself in single life?
Ah, if thou issueless shalt hap to die,
The world will wail thee like a makeless wife;
The world will be thy widow, and still weep
That thou no form of thee hast left behind,
When every private widow well may keep,
By children’s eyes, her husband’s shape in mind:
Look what an unthrift in the world doth spend,
Shifts but his place, for still the world enjoys it;
But beauty’s waste hath in the world an end,
And kept unused the user so destroys it:
No love toward others in that bosom sits
That on himself such murd’rous shame commits.

This sonnet uses the argument of Sonnets 1 & 4 that it is a public duty for the beloved to go forth and multiply legitimately. HV points us to the internal workings of the poem as a fantasy on the letter W – if widow = widdow as in Q. ‘The initial and final w’s of widow are mirror images of each other, and its middle letter is repeated – dd – in self-identity….The poem needs to be read in Q spelling, since in modern spelling some of the symmetries disappear.’ She concentrates on the instances of the symmetrical letters: w; u; and v.

It is certainly always a worthwhile exercise to examine the Q text, as later editorial decisions and modernization of spellings can mean we miss out on many of these subtleties.

First quatrain
The speaker asks the young man if it is because he is afraid that he will bring grief to one woman (i.e. make one a widow), that he wastes himself in a single life. In fact if he should happen to die without issue, the whole world will mourn him like a mateless wife (a widow).

2. consum’st: (a) waste (b) destroy – with overtones of eating, burning (as in a candle) and economic consumption. cf. 1.6: 'feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel'; also R&J, 1.1.210-11: ' For beauty starv'd with her severuty / Cuts beauty off from all posterity.'
Makeless: mateless; widowed (OED)
3.issueless: childless
hap: happen/chance

GBE thinks that the use of hyperbole in this quatrain implies the youth's noble position and importance to the future of the commonwealth ('world'). As you know I have always resisted the idea of putting a narrative on the sonnets, but there are other instances where there seems to be reference by the speaker to a difference in their social positions e.g. 37 where the speaker says that he takes 'all my comfort of thy worth and truth' (37.4). This is not that same as saying, though, that WS himself is referring to e.g. Southampton or Herbert, as tempting as it may be to make that leap!

Second quatrain
The world will be his widow, and continually/always weep that he left no image/likeness (in the shape of children) behind him; when at the same every ordinary, individual widow may well be able to keep in mind an image of her husband in his children’s eyes.

6. form: image, with the suggestion also of something essential.
7. private: particular, individual / living quietly out of the public eye / deprived, suffering (through a macaronic pun on privare (Latin for to deprive)).

Third quatrain
GBE gives the most useful gloss of this difficult quatrain: Whatever a prodigal wastes (‘doth spend’) here on earth merely, as it were, changes hands (‘Shifts but his [i.e. its] place’), because the world continues to benefit from it (‘still…enjoys’). But a waste of beauty yields no return to others unless put to proper use in procreation. If the young man does not put beauty to use/hoards it like a miser, it will be destroyed.

9.unthrift: wastrel, prodigal
doth spend: wastes
11. cf. the Parable of the Talents Matt – cf. Sonnet 2 - also, Marlowe Hero and Leander, 1, 328: ‘Beauty alone is lost, too warily kept’
12.user: waster, user, invester, spendthrift
so: thus

He that commits such ‘murd’rous shame’ – keeping beauty to himself by not procreating – holds no love for anyone else.

14. cf : ‘you shalbe coumpted a parricide, or a murtherer of your stocke: that whereas you may by honest marriage encrease your posterite; you suffer it to decaie for ever, through your willful single lyfe.’ Thomas Wilson, The Art of Rhetoric (1553) ed T J Derrrick 1982, p137
shame: note as link word between this and Sonnet 10.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Sonnet 8

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy;
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds
By unions married, do offend thy ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear:
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire, and child, and happy mother,
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’

This is the first sonnet about music and its structure reflects its subject matter. As HV says, it divides music into its three parts: 5-8, its sounds or aural effect; 9-12, its strings or medium; 13-14, its song or content.

WS also varies the rhetorical form: a single question, 2 proverbs, a double question, a hypothesis – well-known strategies in persuasive oratory.

I am also taken by the movement between words. By this I mean how one word metamorphoses into another with a corresponding shift in sense. Examples are lov'st to receiv'st not gladly(3); concord to confound (5 & 7); one to none (13 & 14)

First quatrain
You, who have a voice like music/ when there is music to hear, why do you listen to music without pleasure? Things that delight should not war with each other, joy/pleasure should delight in pleasure. Why do you appear to love music since you listen to it without pleasure?

1. Music to hear: You, whose voice is music. GBE thinks that this implies 'the youth is music itself, subsuming all the perfectly integrated qualities attributed to music in the following lines’. Note the use of the rhetorical figure of chiasmus here: music-hear-hear-music.
Sadly: without pleasure, mournfully.

2. Sweets…joy: i.e. things affording pleasure

3. cf Jessica in MV 5.1.69: ‘I am never merry when I hear sweet music’; and Spenser The Ruins of Time (1591), 613-14: ‘Of the strings…/ That wrought both joy and sorrow in my mind.’

4. receiv'st: to attend, listen, or give heed to
annoy: pain, irksomeness. IR (& JK) also link annoy with French ennui. CB: the paradox of enjoying the sadness of music is a commonplace of the period, from Jacques’ ‘I can suck the melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs’ (AYLI, 2.5.11-12) to John Dowland’s motto: Semper Dowland semper dolens (‘always Dowland always doleful’).

Second quatrain
If the perfect harmony of well-tuned sounds joined together by chords, offends your ear, they so but sweetly/affectionately chide you, - you who wastes / creates discord by being single / failing to take your part in part-singing.

6: Unions: chords cf Sidney’s New Arcadia - Cecropia's speech on marriage: 'And is a solitary life as good as this? Then can one string make as good music as a consort.'

7: sweetly chide: (a) rebuke affectionately / graciously (b) rebuke with sweet (well-tuned sounds). Cf Sidney, AS, first song, 18: ‘Whose grace is such, that when it chides doth cherish’ JK draws a comparison with MND (4.1.111-17), where Hippolyta describes the ‘music’ of the hounds in the field: ‘Such gallant chiding…So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.’
confound: destroys by mixing together, ruins by blending (cf 5.6) from the latin: confundere: ‘to pour together, topple in confusion, bewilder, disastrously mingle’

8: IR: ‘who, by remaining single, suppress those roles (of husband and father) which you should play.’

5-8: SB: ‘Sometimes Shakespeare’s own sentences can be demonstrated to mean nothing at all – even where readers understand them perfectly.' (!) He then goes to some lengths about these lines, looking at how the reader has to negotiate for himself a meaning that is not literally out – he concludes: ‘The quatrain is an emblem of the paradoxical conditions it recommends, harmony and marriage – unities made by literally ‘confounding,’ ‘pouring together,’ individual elements and potentially disabled by a confusion that results from failure to mix.’

Third quatrain
Note how each string, dear husband to the other, hits/strikes a deal in unison, resembling father, child and fortunate mother, who all combined as one, sing one pleasing note.

9-12: cf: Samuel Brandon, The Virtuous Octavia (1598), ll.2024-27: ‘When any one doth strike a tuned string: / The rest, which with the same in concord be, / Will shew a motion to that senseless thing; / When all the other neither stirre nor play.’ Also, St Paul’s ‘mystery’ of marriage, namely that two ‘shall be one flesh’ (Eph. 5.32-3).

The metaphor is of lute strings, which are tuned in pairs; when one is plucked, the other of the same pitch produces a sympathetic vibration.

Whose wordless song although containing many parts, yet sounding as one, sings this to you: ‘You, single, will prove to be nothing’

13: speechless: wordless, i.e. instrumental rather than vocal.

14. Plays on proverbial idea that one is nothing – i.e. the young man will be a zero cf: 3.14: ‘Die single, and thy image dies with thee’ and 136.8-10 ‘Among a number one is reckoned none, / Then in the number let me pass untold / Though in thy store’s account I one must be.’ as well as Marlowe, Hero and Leander, 255-6: ‘One is no number; maids are nothing then, / Without the sweet society of men’.This idea is evidently revisited by WS on more than one occasion – this from MM 2.4.134-8: Angelo to Isabella – ‘Be that you are, / That is a woman; if you be more, you’re none; /If you be one as you are well-express’d / By all external warrants, show it now / By putting on the destin’d livery.’

Links with other sonnets
14. 3.14; 136.8-10

Links with other works by WS
3. MV, 5.1.69: See also ref to AYLI above.

7. MND, 4.1.111-17

14.MM, 2.4.134-8

Links with works by other authors
3. Spenser The Ruins of Time, 613-14

6. Sidney New Arcadia, 333

7. Sidney, AS, first song, 18

9-12: Samuel Brandon, The Virtuous Octavia, 2024-27

14. Marlowe, Hero and Leander, 255-6