“The Living Record” – 4

One of the hypotheses in the previous chapter contains a prediction: that since the poet is creating his “monument” of the Sonnets for future readers, he must have made sure we could comprehend him.  He must have inserted “instructions” of some kind for us to follow in order to read his message and follow his story.

I started looking through the sequence to see where the author tries to explain his method of writing; and soon it became apparent that he spends a great deal of time referring to his own verses, to the point you can say that a big topic of the Sonnets is … the Sonnets.

By way of example –

Sonnet 17:   Who will believe my verse in time to come…
Sonnet 19:   My love shall in my verse ever live young…
Sonnet 21:   O, let me, true in love, but truly write
Sonnet 26:   To thee I send this written ambassage
Sonnet 38:   Eternal numbers to outlive long date…
Sonnet 55:   The living record of your memory…
Sonnet 60:   And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand…
Sonnet 63:   His beauty shall in these black lines be seen…
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

And so on, all through, making clear that in fact the poet is hell bent on describing his own sonnets from all angles – trying to tell us how to view them, how to recognize what he’s saying, how to translate his words…

Moreover it didn’t take very long to land on two particular sonnets – 76 and 105 – in which he talks specifically about his method of writing.

Most important is Sonnet 76, which, though it did not occur to me right away, is at the center of the main body of the sequence (Sonnets 1-152), where the author really does explain how he writes the truth and conceals it at the same time.  That is, he creates two very different stories – one fiction, the other one nonfiction – running simultaneously.  And then in Sonnet 105 he actually demonstrates how his method works.

Here are both verses by themselves, without comment for now:

Sonnet 76

Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument:
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the Sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

Sonnet 105

Let not my love be called Idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an Idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be,
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words,
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three, till now, never kept seat in one.

We’ll return to these two sonnets again and again, since they contain all we need to know about the poet’s subject matter and his method of both concealing and revealing it.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 10, 2008 at 4:07 am  Leave a Comment  

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