Shakespeare Sonnet 109: "O! Never say that I was false of heart"

Updated on April 9, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 109, "O! Never say that I was false of heart"

The speaker again holds a conversation with his muse. He wants to solidify the notion that he will always remain constant in his relationship with her. Despite his sporadic periods of allowing his mental fields to lie fallow, he will always return to plow and plant.

He reaffirms that his muse, which represents and contains his writing talent and inspiration, is the most important part of his being. As he calls his muse "my rose," he asserts his loyalty to truth and beauty that he has so often avowed.

Sonnet 109: O! Never say that I was false of heart

O! Never say that I was false of heart
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love: if I have rang’d,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchang’d,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reign’d,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain’d,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

Reading of Sonnet 109

Commentary

Addressing his muse, the speaker begins to soften the harshness that once accompanied his complaining when he spoke of separation from his musical inspiration.

First Quatrain: Forgiving Fickleness

O! Never say that I was false of heart
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify.
As easy might I from myself depart
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie:

In the first quatrain of sonnet 109, the speaker commands his Muse not to think him fickle even though he sometimes allows his gifts to rest for longer periods of time than he would like. His absence from the Muse, he suggests, is his own doing; he no long blames her for abandoning him as he has done so many times before.

The speaker assures the muse that she is the entity that preserves his"soul," his deepest love. He would as soon "from [him]self depart" as from his heart’s inspiration. His importance and strength as a writer depend primarily on his bundle of gifts and talent that reside literally in his own mind and heart, but he projects these qualities figuratively onto his muse. This writer’s muse, therefore, is always more than the ordinary muse. She does appreciably more than merely inspire and motivate. She also retains and thus sustains his abilities.

Second Quatrain: Home Is Where the Must Is

That is my home of love: if I have rang’d,
Like him that travels, I return again;
Just to the time, not with the time exchang’d,
So that myself bring water for my stain.

The speaker then asserts,"That is my home of love." His home is where the muse resides, in his own mind and heart. And he then avers that even when he seems to leave his talents lying dormant, he does, in good time, return.

The speaker thinks of his mind/heart as a fallow field when he travels from his muse, but he insists that he never allows anything to replace or usurp his true love, and he himself washes away any guilt he might accrue for having left the field too long.

Third Quatrain: Human Frailties Intrude

Never believe, though in my nature reign’d,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stain’d,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good;

The speaker then implores his muse to realize that although he knows his human nature contains "frailties," he could never ignore her for longer periods of time than are absolutely essential; he would never allow his own work ethic to "so preposterously be stain’d."

Because his muse contains that part of him where his gifts reside, she signifies his own and "[her] sum of good." He insists on making it clear that he remains attached to his must in soulful ways. He cherishes all that is good and true and beautiful, as he has so many times averred.

The Couplet: The Muse and the Creative Nature

For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.

The speaker then avows that in "this wide universe," his muse—his talent, his affinity for the beautiful and the true—alone and nothing else represents for him the creative nature that he most cherishes.

The speaker will continue to cherish and acknowledge his luck at having been blessed with the talent that he knows he is able to confirm and continue to develop. His talent will never grow stale because he possesses the wisdom and the motivation to keep it fresh and thriving.

Quite appropriately, he chooses to call his muse "my rose," the symbol for beauty, which he fiercely defends and lovingly evokes in his sonnets. In that "wide universe," his Muse is all-important to him, as he declares, "in it thou art my all."

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.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

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