Shakespeare (1599) In this sonnet, William Shakespeare uses metaphors connected to the law courts to help describe the speaker's feelings about his beloved, recalling both guilt and punishment. The sonnet also considers how time can affect friendship and love. Possibly the slowness with which English court cases preceded in the past suggested this combination of images to the poet. The speaker begins by talking about the periods—using the term that refers to the sittings of law courts, "sessions"—when he pleasantly muses upon the past and the changes that have occurred in his life. He uses the word summon (l. 2)— which refers to the legal document that calls a person to appear at a court proceeding—to describe how the beloved calls up past memories. Pondering these memories, the speaker mourns the loss of things that he tried to obtain but did not, and he laments again all the precious time wasted in the past.
The second quatrain indicates that, even though these periods of reminiscence are sweet, they are also sad because of the thoughts they call up. A good way to describe these memories would be "bittersweet," because they recall both good and bad moments. They cause the speaker, who sees himself as an unemotional type, to "drown" eyes that are not used to weeping in a flood of tears. What specifically causes these tears are memories of precious friends now hidden in the perpetual dark night of death, the sadness of past love affairs, and pleasant memories of the past. The speaker uses the legal phrase long-since-cancelled (l. 7) to indicate that all of the aspects of the love affair are over; like a bill or a loan, they have been marked "paid" and cancelled from the account of what is owed.
The third quatrain continues the speaker's grieving over incidents in the past and employs additional legal metaphors. He mourns over past grievances and sadly counts them up, as a lawyer might count up details of a case. This is a sad account—or story—of what has gone from his life, but the word account can also refer to finances. Lines 11 and 12 suggest that the loss of so many things in the speaker's past seems to bankrupt him, because each incident of grief causes a payout of grief and sadness as though he has not suffered it before. Thus, the remembrance of grief "charges" the speaker again and again for the sorrow.
The couplet summarizes the incidents described above by recalling the remembrance of a "dear friend" whose closeness and importance to the speaker has the effect of not only ending his sorrows but of restoring all the losses previous remembrances of others have taken from him. Despite the vast power of a country's legal establishment, the memory of a loved friend or lover can overcome that power in such a way that the speaker no longer feels victimized by circumstances beyond his—or anyone else's—control.
See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).
Shakespeare's sonnets: Sonnet 31 ("Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts") William Shakespeare (1599) Sonnet 31 continues William Shakespeare's meditation on the theme introduced in the previous poem—memory and recollection. The sonnet opens wistfully: The poet states that many of his friends are absent or deceased and live on only in his heart. However, the most important figure that dwells there is the lovely boy whose memory drives away the melancholy caused by his other losses. Fittingly, line 3 contains a homoerotic pun on "loving parts." The second quatrain (ll. 5-8) develops the idea that the young man is the focus of the speaker's emotions. Indeed, he need only think of his friend to experience the joy of all his other relationships. The third quatrain is, perhaps, the most erotic. It proposes that the young man possesses all the qualities the poet has admired in his other acquaintances. The imagery plays on sexual innuendo: The addressee possesses all the "trophies" (l. 10) of the poet's old lovers, while the young man has received the "parts" (l. 11), an allusion to the "loving parts" of line 3. The concluding couplet summarizes the poem's central theme succinctly: Everything that the speaker likes in his other lovers/acquaintances is embodied and enshrined in his friend's heart—including his own.
This SoNNET is particularly charged with metaphoric nuance and is a good example of how language play could engender a strong sexual element in the poetry. Indeed, though modern scholars are sometimes quick to point out that same-sex relations were not uncommon during the Renaissance, at the same time the use of sexually charged language was also used in platonic relationships in many Renaissance poems by various authors. Thus, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not Shakespeare intends the material to be taken as a conventional, hyperbolic poem that emphasizes the depth of his respect for his patron, or if it is, indeed, a love poem. Nonetheless, the sonnet powerfully illustrates the emotional impact that grew from the speaker's relationship with the young man to whom he addresses his poem.
See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).
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