Shakespeare Sonnet 101: "O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends"

Updated on December 18, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 101, "O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends"

In sonnet 101, the speaker is again concocting a little piece of drama that seems to include a glowing yet deep back and forth between his Muse and himself. They are not enemies, of course, but the clear and definite argument this speaker continues with his Muse always provides the character of a bitter battle.

Even as he seems to be continuing to create the same drama time and time again, the speaker still offers new, fresh, entertaining, and interesting little dramas.

As he chides his Muse, the speaker allows the reader to experience a conflict that is imaginatively much more than an inner conflict, which ultimately, it certainly is.

O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends

O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends
For thy neglect of truth in beauty dy’d?
Both truth and beauty on my love depends;
So dost thou too, and therein dignified.
Make answer, Muse: wilt thou not haply say,
‘Truth needs no colour, with his colour fix’d;
Beauty no pencil, beauty’s truth to lay;
But best is best, if never intermix’d?’
Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?
Excuse not silence so; for ’t lies in thee
To make him much outlive a gilded tomb
And to be prais’d of ages yet to be.
Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how
To make him seem long hence as he shows now.

Reading of Sonnet 101

Commentary

First Quatrain: "O truant Muse, what shall be thy amends"

In sonnet 101, the speaker again is addressing his Muse directly by appealing to her by name, "Muse." The speaker proclaims that "truth and beauty" depend upon his "love." As for that matter, the Muse depends upon his love also, for in reality, it is the speaker who wills the Muse into being. The speaker, in effect, creates a mystical being with whom to spar. Once again, he feigns his complaint regarding the Muse’s absence by calling her "truant."

The speaker not only creates the Muse, but he also gives her substance through his conversations with her. It is through his wrangling with her that she is "therein dignified." He willingly gives her power in order to understand better that his own power originates from a Higher Source.

Second Quatrain: "Make answer, Muse: wilt thou not haply say"

The speaker then begins to command the Muse to answer him, but he, of course, will be putting the words into the Muse’s mouth and qualifying her response, "wilt thou not haply say," that truth is ethereal and not tainted or stained by the hues of earth; therefore, "his colour" is "fix’d."

The speaker then continues by asserting that beauty requires "no pencil" in order to demonstrate truth; however, by narrating the truth well, the speaker presumes that his artistic talent will guarantee that truth will never be tangled up with any qualities that are beneath truth and beauty. This devoted speaker is able to intuit that he is correct in his assumptions; thus, he is elevating his belief from mere correctness to righteousness.

Third Quatrain: "Because he needs no praise, wilt thou be dumb?"

In the third quatrain, the speaker continues his dramatic little pretense, as he give the Muse the power to "make him much outlive a gilded tomb / And to be prais’d of ages yet to be." Speaking of himself and his talent in the third person, he assigns to the Muse the capability of assisting in the future continuation and fame of his art.

The speaker discerns the quality of his abilities and thus recognizes that "he needs no praise." But he still expects the Muse to sing to him and not to make excuses for remaining dumb.

This speaker is a quite a task master. He knows what he wants, and he expects his Muse to be as determined to create as he is. He also insists that the quality of the Muse's inspiration be equal or better than the quality of his own abilities to absorb that inspiration.

The Couplet: "Then do thy office, Muse; I teach thee how"

In the couplet, the speaker then commands the Muse to complete her assignment; he promises to assist by instructing the Muse on "how / To make him seem long hence." He knows that his art will endure and thus chides the Muse to join him in making sure it shines as brightly as they can create it.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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