Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 122

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"

The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 122: "Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain"

The speaker claims that he does not need to retain tablets or books of his poems to remember the love that has created his career in writing. While poets and writers will always record in books for publication or for their own possession, those artifacts of words cannot become more important than the love that inspired them.

Thus, this speaker challenges himself to de-emphasize the physical presence of his works. Whether they reside in tablets or books, the speaker will never allow any aspect of their being to overcome or overshadow his original promptings, which will forever remain his central interest. The speaker claims that he does not need to retain tablets or books of his poems to remember the love that has created his career in writing.

While poets and writers will always record in books for publication or for their own possession, those artifacts of words cannot become more important than the love that inspired them. Thus, this speaker challenges himself to de-emphasize the physical presence of his works. Whether they reside in tablets or books, the speaker will never allow any aspect of their being to overcome or overshadow his original promptings, which will forever remain his central interest.

Sonnet 122: "Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain"

Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full character’d with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain,
Beyond all date, even to eternity:
Or, at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to raz’d oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy record never can be miss’d.
That poor retention could not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
To trust those tables that receive thee more:
To keep an adjunct to remember thee
Were to import forgetfulness in me.

Reading of Sonnet 122

Commentary

The speaker is addressing the Giver of his gift of poetry, dramatizing the ability of his memory to retain the love and inspiration of the Divine Giver.

First Quatrain: Gift of Poetry Resides in the Brain

Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full character’d with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain,
Beyond all date, even to eternity:

In the opening quatrain of sonnet 122, the speaker declares that his gift of poetry, which is represented in tablets "full character’d," is also part of his "brain," that is, they abide in his memory He will continue to expand his memory’s ability retain the love that inspired his works as long as his soul exists, which means unto eternity.

The speaker insists that the mental imprint of his poems will remain in his memory, even without his having the physical replicas in his presence. He does not have to read his own poems to know what motivated them. He is implying that the love he feels for his muse and writing talent are part of his DNA, that is, so close that he needs only his magnificent memory.

Second Quatrain: Mental Capacity Explored

Or, at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to raz’d oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy record never can be miss’d.

The speaker continues to emphasize his mental capacity, saying that at least he will be able to recall his inspirations as long as his brain continues to function, and he will be able to remember his motivations as long as he is alive on the physical plane.

The speaker reiterates his claim, and then with a measure of hyperbole, he declaims his ability to keep those memories until his brain and heart as long as obliviousness never cramps his thought-processes. He will never forget his love of his muse as long as he can still think and feel.

Third Quatrain: The Irrelevance of Forgetting

That poor retention could not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
To trust those tables that receive thee more:

The speaker then asserts that forgetting is not even relevant when broaching these subjects of his art: his muse, his talent, the Giver of talent, and Divine Inspiration. He does not have to worry about keeping a physical account of his love; it would be like constantly having to count fingers or look for the eyeballs in his head.

Publishing his works and letting them find an audience requires that he be "bold." He can let his books be sold without losing what motivated his writing them. The "tables" of the mind and heart are the ones that accept all the love of the One who give him his talent and life. That Giver is more important than the paper on which the poems rest.

The Couplet: Physical Tokens of Superfluity

To keep an adjunct to remember thee
Were to import forgetfulness in me.

The speaker then avers that the physical tokens of his works are ultimately superfluous, and he suggests that those physical things might actually encourage him to forget, if he lets that happen. Keeping his own books constantly in his presence would imply that he could somehow forget his own love and inspiration, and the speaker has taken great pains to counter that misconception.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: The Real "Shakespeare"

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles