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

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

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

The speaker in sonnet 109 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence 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 this clever speaker’s sporadic periods of allowing his mental fields to lie fallow, he will always return to plow and plant. This talented, accomplished speaker 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.

This thematic group, "The Muse Sonnets," varies with the speaker at times addressing his talent (his writing ability) and at other times addressing his muse, while often still he can be found addressing the sonnet itself. His life represents a trinity of talent, muse, and work. As many of life’s endeavors may be sectioned into three aspects—such as the knower, the knowing, and the known—this speaker often wrenches apart his undisputed unity simply to give himself the opportunity to dramatize each aspect for various purposes. Often the speaker will isolate one of the aspects in order to complain about the absence of the muse or that inspirational dryness resulting from writer’s block.

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

The speaker is addressing his muse, as he begins to soften the harshness that once played out in his complaining as he spoke of separation from his beloved muse.

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 longer 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.

This assertive speaker 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 talented writer’s muse, therefore, is always more than an ordinary muse. She does appreciably more than merely inspire and motivate because she also retains and thus sustains his abilities.

Second Quatrain: Home Is Where the Muse 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 the muse is, in fact, his home, but she is a very special home "of love." Because his home is where the muse resides, he know that she lives in his own mind and heart; thus, he avers that even when he seems to leave his talents lying dormant, he does, in good time, return to them. The speaker thinks of his mind/heart as a fallow field while he is traveling 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.

The metaphoric field of fallowness vs fecundity plays out appropriately for the art of writing. Because the writer must engage themes, attitudes, as well as literary devices, the nature of inspiration must always come into play. The prolific artist prays that his field will remain fecund, despite the seasons of fallowness. This speaker asserts his intentions but only through his dramatic representations. He will never allow a false modesty to blight his creations, and he need never worry that such could intrude, because he keeps his muse central in his mind and heart—in his "home of love."

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 muse 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 good fortune at having been blessed with the talent that he knows he is able to confirm and continue to develop.

This creative speaker’s 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."

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© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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