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Shakespeare Sonnet 115: "Those lines that I before have writ do lie"

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 115: "Those lines that I before have writ do lie"

As the speaker addresses his sonnet 115 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, he is dramatizing his analysis of his thinking. He attempts to determine how deep runs his love of his art. He has proven many times that he respects the great talent he possesses, and he remains humble enough to share his success with his muse.

But still the speaker knows that he is not in perfect awareness of his deep soul qualities, and he intuits that by questioning and reasoning he may be able to ascertain all that he yearns to know and to understand about his deepest wishes and desires.

Sonnet 115: "Those lines that I before have writ do lie"

Those lines that I before have writ do lie
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning Time, whose million’d accidents
Creep in ’twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas! why, fearing of Time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say, ‘Now I love you best,’
When I was certain o’er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
Love is a babe; then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

Reading of Sonnet 115

Commentary

Addressing his poem, the speaker of sonnet 115 is striving to analyze, through dramatization, the depth of his genuine affection for his art.

First Quatrain: Attempting to Introspect

Those lines that I before have writ do lie
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.

In the opening quatrain of sonnet 115, the speaker asserts that until now he has not been able to correctly evaluate his love for his art; he even claims that what he wrote heretofore regarding the subject has been prevarication.

The speaker also insists that he did not comprehend "why / My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer." Earlier in his life, he did not understand that later, after he had garnered much more life experience, he would begin to understand the true nature of his feelings and be able to better express them.

Second Quatrain: Accidental Knowledge

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But reckoning Time, whose million’d accidents
Creep in ’twixt vows, and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;

The speaker then catalogues a selection of the occurrences, eventuated by "Time," that can change a person’s ways of thinking about things in his life. He calls time, "reckoning Time," as if time is a calculating person who allows "million[s of] accidents" and also permits even the "decrees of kings" to change.

This "reckoning Time" also allows "sacred beauty" to be altered, while it makes dull even the "sharp’st intents." Time as a reckoner also has the power to "divert strong minds" as it changes all things. The speaker is implying that he himself has been affected by all of time’s change producing abilities.

Third Quatrain: Holding onto Truth

Alas! why, fearing of Time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say, ‘Now I love you best,’
When I was certain o’er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?

Instead of asserting any claims about events that have motivated his life through his observations about "reckoning Time," the speaker then poses two queries; he is wondering why, even knowing about and "fearing Time’s tyranny," he remains unable to say simply, "Now I love you best."

The speaker does remain convinced that the statement holds truth; thus, he assumes that he should be capable of making this remark without having to know all future events, thoughts, and feelings that might plague him. But his remark offers such a bald assertion that it does not seem to capture completely all he truly experiences.

The Couplet: The Delicacy of Love

Love is a babe; then might I not say so,
To give full growth to that which still doth grow?

The speaker therefore invents a metaphor, "Love is a babe." By creating the image of his feeling as still an infant, he gives his feeling room to grow. He believes that his love for poetry cannot be encompassed by the simple statement, "Now I love you best"; such a statement is not only too simple, but it also limits love to a spot in the present.

The speaker insists that his love should remain a growing thing and not be limited to present time. By metaphorically comparing his love for his art to an infant, he asserts that his love will remain capable of further maturation. However, the speaker does not merely frame this idea as a statement; he offers it as a question, "then might I not say so, / To give full growth to that which still doth grow?" By asserting such a bold claim as a question, he adds still further emphasis to his affection.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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