Sunday Sonnet – 17 May 2015


Today’s installment in the Dark Lady sequence of sonnets is rather an ugly one, and I mean that in more ways than one.


Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes,
That they behold, and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be.
If eyes corrupt by over-partial looks
Be anchor’d in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes’ falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
Why should my heart think that a several plot
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
Or mine eyes seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
And to this false plague are they now transferr’d.

As Shakespeare did with so many of his sonnets–both to the Young Man and the Dark Lady–he turns the Petrarchan Ideal of Romantic Love on its head: he doesn’t flatter his love, rather he tells her (or him in the case of the Young Man), and the entire world, the truth.

The truth in Sonnet 137 is that the Poet regards the Dark Lady as an unfaithful tramp; yet still he loves her.   Unfortunately, this misogynistic meme had continued to this very day, over four centuries later, in so much of our Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll. I can forgive Shakespeare for this, since he a) was largely a product of his time and b) he was the first writer in Western Literature to create thoroughly realistic and empathic female characters–especially in his later plays. And so he grew into a kind of gender enlightenment.

But back to Sonnet 137. The Poet uses some entertaining imagery to describe how Love has blinded him to his lady’s faults:

  • ‘Be anchored in the bay were all men ride’: a scathing condemnation of the Dark Lady’s promiscuity.
  • ‘Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place’: that which my heart loves is available to the whole world for the taking.
  • The vicious couplet: ‘In things true my heart and eyes have erred, / And to this false plague are they now transferred’: My eyes and heart have been fooled; for they love a lying and diseased woman.

So the next time your lover betrays you (be they male, female, the same gender as you or different), instead of sending them a Sam Smith song, send them this sonnet.

The image is reputed to be of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway (though we can never really know), whom Shakespeare probably betrayed often. But back in those days, outside the realm of Petrarchan poetry, marriages were more of a practical contract than any kind of romantic or sexual hook-up.

Sunday Sonnet – 01 March 2015


Shakespeare loved puns. But not all of his puns had to be humorous. In this melancholy and desolate sonnet, he endows the word ‘love’ with at least five or six shades of meaning: The Poet’s love for his lover; his lover’s love for him; the two actual different lovers themselves (besides the Poet himself); lust, or the carnal act of love-making; and the generic attribution referring all lovers in the word. For in this sonnet we find a love triangle mixed into the tangle of the emotions and betrayals:


Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all;
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
Then if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blamed, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet, love knows, it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes. 

Why on earth would Shakespeare decide to play on one word, weaving it through in all kinds of different confusing ways? Just about everything Shakespeare did was intentional. Any us who’ve ever been in throes of a new love affair, are experiencing trouble in an established relationship or, sadly, are involved in the betrayal of love, roil about with a sense of confusion and despair. Our emotions are very mixed.

In the end the Poet seems to eek out a half-hearted and woefully inadequate solution to this: 

Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes. 

Your betrayal is going to ruin me, but let’s still remain friends. 

The image is a photograph of Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Anne was Shakespeare’s wife, and evidence shows that Will and Anne were estranged for years. It was very likely an unhappy love.