“The Second Burden of a Former Child” – Sonnet 59 of The Living Record of Henry Earl of Southampton

THE PRISON YEARS
DAY THIRTY-THREE IN THE TOWER

EXECUTION DRAWS NEARER

Sonnet 59
Labouring for Invention
The Second Burden of a Former Child

12 March 1601

While waiting for Elizabeth [actually Robert Cecil] to make her decision about the fate of their royal son [or waiting for him to agree to give up his claim to the throne], Oxford continues to record the days of Southampton’s life in this diary.  He refers to his “invention” of the Sonnets – an “invention” he introduced when publicly dedicating Venus and Adonis to him as “the first heir of my invention” or his invented name “William Shakespeare.”  Now that same “invention” has been extended to his method of communicating to posterity through the poetry of the Sonnets; and he is “laboring for invention” by giving his son rebirth in this womb or “living record” of the private verses.  His diary is itself the “second burthen” (new burden of childbirth or re-creation) of a “former child,” i.e., of a son who was once his but who was taken from him by the Queen and never acknowledged as the rightful heir to the throne.

1- If there be nothing new, but that which is
2- Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
3- Which, lab’ring for invention, bear amiss
4- The second burthen of a former child!

5- Oh that record could with a backward look,
6- Even of five hundred courses of the Sunne,
7 – Show me your image in some antique book,
8 – Since mind at first in character was done,

9 – That I might see what the old world could say
10 – To this composed wonder of your frame;
11 – Whether we are mended, or where better they
12 – Or whether revolution be the same.

13 – Oh sure I am the wits of former days
14 – To subjects worse have given admiring praise.

1 IF THERE BEEN NOTHING NEW BUT THAT WHICH IS
Proverbial and biblical; “if there is nothing new under the sun,” echoing the royal sun; i.e., there is nothing new under the royal son; “For as the Sun is daily new and old,/ So is my love still telling what is told” – Sonnet 76, lines 13-14

2 HATH BEEN BEFORE, HOW ARE OUR BRAINS BEGUILED,
BEGUILED = cheated; “Thou dost beguile the world” – Sonnet 3, line 4

3 WHICH, LABORING FOR INVENTION, BEAR AMISS
LABORING FOR INVENTION
= The image of Oxford’s brain giving birth or rebirth to his son in these sonnets, using his “invention” explained in Sonnet 76 and demonstrated in Sonnet 105.

“Only, if your Honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised; and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour.  But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it shall yield me still so bad a harvest” – Dedication of Venus and Adonis to Southampton, 1593

“My very good Lord.  I have labored so much as I could possibly to advance Her Majesty’s customs of tin” – Oxford to Burghley, April 9, 1595

BEAR = give birth to; bear the burden of; BEAR AMISS = bear a son consigned by the Queen to the status of a royal bastard; “suggests ‘miscarry’” – Booth; “Myself corrupting salving thy amiss” – Sonnet 35, line 7, referring to his son’s role in the Rebellion

4 THE SECOND BURTHEN OF A FORMER CHILD!
BURTHEN
= burden; SECOND BURTHEN OF A FORMER CHILD = the second birth of you, and responsibility for you, in this secret diary; (“give birth a second time to a child that lived before” – Booth, citing the “primary” sense); Oxford is using the Sonnets in order to give “rebirth” to his son and to grow him in the “womb” of his diary written according to the dwindling time of the life of his mother the Queen; he is replacing Elizabeth’s womb with this one; “My first burthen, coming before his time, must needs be a blind whelp, the second brought forth after his time must needs be a monster, the one I sent to a noble man to nurse, who with great love brought him up, for a year” – John Lyly, 1580, dedicating Euphues his England to Oxford

FORMER CHILD = “But out alack, he was but one hour mine,/ The region cloud hath masked him from me now” – Sonnet 33, lines 11-12; to Southampton, referring to these private verses: “Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find/ Those children nursed, delivered from thy brain” – Sonnet 77, lines 10-11

5 OH THAT RECORD COULD WITH A BACKWARD LOOK,
RECORD
= the true record of your life in the Sonnets (oh, that it could look all the way back in time); “The living record of your memory” – Sonnet 55, line 8, referring to the record of his son’s life in these verses; “For thy records, and what we see, doth lie” – Sonnet 123, line 11, referring to the records of Time, i.e., historical records, that fail to tell the truth

6 EVEN OF FIVE HUNDRED COURSES OF THE SUNNE,
FIVE HUNDRED COURSES OF THE SUN
= referring to the five hundred years of the Oxford earldom, when his official blood lineage began in England; the royal past of England from 1066; THE SUNNE = linking his royal son to the blood lineage of past kings; “Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine” – Sonnet 33, line 9; “Making a couplement of proud compare/ With Sunne and Moone” – Sonnet 21, lines 5-6, i.e., Southampton and Elizabeth; “And scarcely greet me with that sunne, thine eye” – Sonnet 49, line 6; “Clouds and eclipses stain both Moone and Sunne” – Sonnet 35, line 3, i.e., both mother and son; “And crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight” – Sonnet 60, line 7; “The mortal Moone hath her eclipse endured” – Sonnet 107, line 5; “My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sunne” – Sonnet 130, line 1; “And truly not the morning Sun of Heaven/ Better becomes the gray cheeks of the East” – Sonnet 132, line 5

7 SHOW ME YOUR IMAGE IN SOME ANTIQUE BOOK,
Giving evidence of you in some old account or written account of the past; YOUR IMAGE = your royal image; “The image of the King … your most royal image” – 2 Henry IV, 5.3.79, 89

8 SINCE MIND AT FIRST IN CHARACTER WAS DONE:
MIND = the mind of humankind; IN CHARACTER = in the form of written words on the page; “What’s in the brain that Ink may character,/ Which hath not figur’d to thee my true spirit?” – Sonnet 108, lines 1-2, to Southampton; DONE = expressed, written down

9 THAT I MIGHT SEE WHAT THE OLD WORLD COULD SAY
THE OLD WORLD
= the realm of old England, in history

10 TO THIS COMPOSED WONDER OF YOUR FRAME:
To these sonnets, in which I compose the “wonder” or royal blood of you; “His head by nature framed to wear a crown” – 3 Henry VI, 4.6.72; WONDER = miracle; “won” playing on “one” for Southampton, as in the “wondrous excellence” and “wondrous scope” of Sonnet 105, marking Elizabeth’s death, followed by their amazement and marveling at the fact of Southampton’s forthcoming release amid the accession of James: “For we which now behold these present days,/ Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise” – Sonnet 106, lines 13-14

11 WHETHER WE ARE MENDED, OR WHERE BETTER THEY,
Whether we have done you more justice and where they would have written a better account of your life; WE = the royal “we” used in the opening of the diary: “From fairest creatures we desire increase” – Sonnet 1, line 1

12 OR WHETHER REVOLUTION BE THE SAME.
REVOLUTION
= the cycle of the sun and planets; echoing the Rebellion or revolt; “For as the Sun is daily new and old,/ So is my love still telling what is told” – Sonnet 76, lines 13-14; THE SAME = without change; echoing Elizabeth’s motto Semper Eadem or Ever the Same, inserted as “Why write I still all one, ever the same” of Sonnet 76, line 5

13 OH SURE I AM THE WITS OF FORMER DAYS
OH = O = Oxford; I AM = “I am that I am” – Sonnet 121, line 9; THE WITS = the wise writers or contemporary historians (of the past); ironically in the 1580s Oxford was leader of a group of writers known later as the University Wits, who have been regarded as the immediate “forerunners” or “predecessors” of Shakespeare

14 TO SUBJECTS WORSE HAVE GIVEN ADMIRING PRAISE.
SUBJECTS
= topics; servants of the monarch; TO SUBJECTS WORSE = to lesser subjects of a monarch; i.e., Southampton is a subject of the Queen; in the eyes of the law he is a traitor, but other “subjects” praised by writers have been much worse

(It is interesting that this particular sonnet is placed in correspondence with the 33rd day of Southampton’s imprisonment, given that it reflects the age of Christ at His death on the Cross.  Sonnet 59 alludes to Southampton’s birth in 1574  along with Sonnet 33: “Even so my Sunne one early morn did shine…”)

“This Sad Interim” – Sonnet 56 – The Living Record of Southampton as His Execution Nears

Southampton, a Convicted Traitor in the Tower of London, held hostage untill after the death of Queen Elizabeth on March 24, 1603 and the official proclamation by the English nobility of James of Scotland as King of England

THE PRISON YEARS
DAY THIRTY IN THE TOWER
Sonnet 56
This Sad Interim
9 March 1601

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (1550-1604) records his deep sadness after meeting with Henry Wriothseley, Earl of Southampton in the Tower, when he had to inform his royal son of the bittersweet bargain with Robert Cecil (1663-1612) as the only way to gain a reprieve from his execution.  His reference to the Ocean (the sea of royal blood) is an overt homage to Southampton (1573-1624)*  as a prince or king.  He urges Henry Wriothesley to go along with the bargain to save his life.
(* Officially his birth date is October 6, 1573, but the Sonnets indicate he was born in May or early June 1574.)

Sonnet 56

Sweet love, renew thy force!  Be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.

So love be thou, although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fullness,
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of Love with a perpetual dullness.

Let this sad Interim like the Ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;

As call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wished, more rare.

I have thought to include my “translation” of this sonnet from THE MONUMENT.   Call it a paraphrase, if you want.  The point is not at all to take away from the many other meanings, reverberations, allusions and uses of rhetoric.  The translation represents an attempt to suggest one side of a double image — the important side, which has been overlooked for centuries, because we have been directed (programmed, accustomed) to seeing only the side that appears to be strictly the poetry of love and no more.

Translation – Sonnet 56

Royal son, regain your power!  Be it not said
That you should be less strong than my purpose,
Which is but allayed today by my will
But tomorrow return to your former strength!

So, royal son, be the same.  While today you
Bring yourself back to physical health,
Tomorrow be a royal prince again.  Do not kill
The essence of your blood with imprisonment.

Let this sad time [in prison] be like royal waters
Separating a king from his subjects, but
Brings them together again, so when all see
The return of royal blood, it will be seen freshly.

Call this a dark time, which filled with royalty,
Makes your golden time thrice more desired and rare.

1 SWEET LOVE, RENEW THY FORCE!  BE IT NOT SAID
SWEET LOVE = royal prince; royal son; “Good night, sweet prince” – Hamlet, 5.2.366; THY FORCE = your royal power and strength; validity, as in “our late edict shall strongly stand in force” – Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1.1.11; your will to live

2 THY EDGE SHOULD BLUNTER BE THAN APPETITE,
EDGE = the cutting side of a blade, echoing the “edge” of the executioner’s axe; “But bears it out even to the edge of doom” – Sonnet 116, line 12; keenness, desire, royal will; “with spirit of honor edged more sharper than your swords” – Henry V, 3.5.38; APPETITE = your desire to live; i.e., Oxford is urging his son to go along with the bargain being made for his life, appealing to his desire to live and eventually be freed from prison

3 WHICH BUT TODAY BY FEEDING IS ALLAYED,
BY FEEDING = by being put out to pasture, so to speak; “Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep in the affliction of these terrible dreams that shake us nightly” – Macbeth, 3.2.18-19; ALLAYED = postponed (with ALL = Southampton, One for All, All for One)

4 TOMORROW SHARP’NED IN HIS FORMER MIGHT.
TOMORROW = “Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind” – Sonnet 105, line 5; FORMER MIGHT = former royal power; “O’er-charged with burden of mine own love’s might” – Sonnet 23, line 8; “Thy pyramids built up with newer might” – Sonnet 123, line 2; “England shall give him office, honour, might” – 2 Henry IV, 4.5.129; “the might of it” – i.e., the might and power of the crown, 2 Henry IV, 4.5.173

Secretary Robert Cecil is holding Southampton, the rightful Prince and Heir, in the Tower -- while he carries on a dangerous correspondence with King James of Scotland, secretly engineering his succession behind Elizabeth's back

5 SO LOVE BE THOU, ALTHOUGH TODAY THOU FILL
SO LOVE BE THOU = so, royal son, be your royal self, since you are you; “This is I, Hamlet the Dane!” – Hamlet, 5.1.255; “But he that writes of you, if he can tell/ That you are you, so dignifies his story” – Sonnet 84, lines 7-8; act like the king you are, and go along with this decision to save your life; in giving up the throne, you help England avoid civil war, and you will gain your life and freedom

6 THY HUNGRY EYES, EVEN TILL THEY WINK WITH FULLNESS.
HUNGRY EYES = royal eyes wanting to be who he is; WINK WITH FULLNESS = close or shut because of the power of the sun or royal light; echoing the “winking” of Southampton’s royal eyes or stars or suns;

7 TOMORROW SEE AGAIN, AND DO NOT KILL
TOMORROW SEE AGAIN = stay alive and use your kingly eyes once more; KILL = destroy; echoing the execution of Southampton, still a possibility, with Oxford urging his son to accept the terms of the “ransom” and, thereby, to save himself from being killed.

8 THE SPIRIT OF LOVE WITH A PERPETUAL DULLNESS.
THE SPIRIT OF LOVE = the sacredness of your royal blood (which is the essential and vital part of you); “Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame” – Sonnet 128, line 1, to Elizabeth, referring to her waste of Southampton’s “spirit of love” or royal blood; Essex in 1597 wrote to Elizabeth thanking her for her “sweet letters, indited by the Spirit of spirits”; PERPETUAL DULLNESS = eternal shame; perpetual confinement in the Tower; eternal death

9 LET THIS SAD IN’T’RIM LIKE THE OCEAN BE
THIS SAD INTERIM = this sorrowful time of your imprisonment (which hopefully is only temporary); OCEAN = kingly; royal blood

“Here, then, we have Shakespeare typifying his Friend variously as a sun, a god, an ocean or a sea: three familiar metaphors which he and his contemporaries use to represent a sovereign prince or king” – Leslie Hotson, Mr. W. H., 1965

“Even to our Ocean, to our great King John” – King John, 5.4.57; “The tide of blood in me … shall mingle with the state of floods and flow henceforth in formal majesty” – 2 Henry IV, 5.2.129; “A substitute shines brightly as a king, until a king be by, and then his state empties itself, as doth an inland brook into the main of waters” – Merchant of Venice, 5.1.94-97; poets alluded to Elizabeth as “Cynthia, Queen of Seas and Lands” – Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth, 52; “Thou art, quoth she, a sea, a sovereign king;/ And lo, there falls into thy boundless flood/ Black lust, dishonour, shame” – Lucrece, line 652

King James I of England

10 WHICH PARTS THE SHORE, WHERE TWO CONTRACTED NEW
CONTRACTED NEW = come together again; “But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes” – Sonnet 1, line 5; Oxford and his royal son, envisioned as newly contracted

11 COME DAILY TO THE BANKS, THAT WHEN THEY SEE
COME DAILY = like these verses written daily; echoing the day-by-day experience of his son in prison; like the tide coming daily to the banks of these “pyramids” or sonnets, as in “No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!  Thy pyramids built up with newer might/ To me are nothing novel, nothing strange” – Sonnet 123, lines 1-3; “Thus they do, sir; they take the flow of the Nile by certain scales in the pyramid” – Antony and Cleopatra, 2.7.17-18

12 RETURN OF LOVE, MORE BLEST MAY BE THE VIEW!
RETURN OF LOVE = return of royal blood; i.e., when Southampton finally emerges from the Tower, he will be alive and so will his “love” or royal blood still live; BLEST = full of Southampton’s royal and divine blessings; “the blessed sun of heaven” – Falstaff of Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, 2.4.403

13 AS CALL IT WINTER, WHICH BEING FULL OF CARE,
WINTER = the present time, early March of 1601; this miserable time of your imprisonment and possible death; “How like a Winter hath my absence been/ From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year” – Sonnet 97, lines 1-2, corresponding with February 8, 1602; “Three winters cold … /Since first I saw you fresh” – Sonnet 104, lines 3-8, corresponding to February 8, 1603, the third winter of Southampton’s confinement; i.e., this entire time of your confinement is a winter; FULL OF CARE = full of Oxford’s care for him, to save his life; “Thou best of dearest, and mine only care” – Sonnet 48, line 7

14 MAKES SUMMER’S WELCOME THRICE MORE WISHED, MORE RARE.
SUMMER’S WELCOME = the welcoming of the golden time of the king, of Southampton as prince, his return to freedom; “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day … And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date … But thy eternal Summer shall not fade” – Sonnet 18, lines 1, 4, 9; THRICE = related to the Trinity and also to the previously potential royal family (which is no longer possible) of Elizabeth and Oxford and Southampton; MORE RARE = more royal; “Beauty, Truth, and Rarity,/ Grace in all simplicity” – the royal family of Elizabeth, Oxford and Southampton in The Phoenix and Turtle, by “William Shake-speare,” 1601, 53-5

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