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Shakespeare Sonnet 124: "If my dear love were but the child of state" and 125: "Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy"

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 124: "If my dear love were but the child of state"

In sonnet 124, as in many of the sonnets from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker’s love of truth and beauty is consistently his companion. He reveals that love that strengthens his talent and his craft.

In this drama the speaker compares and contrasts his own soul ("love") with the situation experienced by a child who remains a ward of the state.

His point is show that his love is not dependent on outward circumstances. It was created by the Divine, it continues to live and be guided by the Divine, thus it will remain undefiled by the physical machinations of time.

Sonnet 124: "If my dear love were but the child of state"

If my dear love were but the child of state
It might for Fortune’s bastard be unfather’d,
As subject to Time’s love or to Time’s hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gather’d.
No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto the inviting time our fashion calls:
It fears not policy, that heretic,
Which works on leases of short-number’d hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.
To this I witness call the fools of time,
Which die for goodness, who have liv’d for crime.

Reading of Sonnet 124

Commentary on Sonnet 124: "If my dear love were but the child of state"

In sonnet 124, the speaker dramatizes the nature of his "dear love," the motivating soul-power that guides his craftsmanship and keeps his creatively active.

First Quatrain: Exploring the Nature of Love

If my dear love were but the child of state
It might for Fortune’s bastard be unfather’d,
As subject to Time’s love or to Time’s hate,
Weeds among weeds, or flowers with flowers gather’d.

Addressing a general audience in sonnet 124, the speaker explores the nature of his love (or his soul) by metaphorically comparing it to an orphan, but the comparison is crafted negatively, claiming that if his love were a mere orphan or "child of state," it would be not only a "bastard" but left to the vicissitudes of time.

Time maintains a special place in this speaker's dramas. And in this sonnet, he insists that if time had its sway over his love and his talent, his best qualities would be ordinary. They would come under the control of ordinary love and hate. Thus they would be likes weeds or flowers.

Second Quatrain: Love Divinely Created

No, it was builded far from accident;
It suffers not in smiling pomp, nor falls
Under the blow of thralled discontent,
Whereto the inviting time our fashion calls:

But such is not the case with his love, which was deliberately, thus divinely, crafted "far from accident." Unlike the poor bastard child of state, fatherless and depending upon societal scraps and passing good will, his love does not suffer from the vicissitudes of good and back luck.

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Because his love is from the Divine, the speaker can insist with certainty that time and its fickle gifts cannot touch his love and his ability to create his life's works.

The pairs of opposites will continue to work on the physical level of his being, but at his soul level, this speaker knows by intuition that his love will remain vital despite the see-saw effect provided by time.

Third Quatrain: The Fickle Policies of the State

It fears not policy, that heretic,
Which works on leases of short-number’d hours,
But all alone stands hugely politic,
That it nor grows with heat, nor drowns with showers.

The speaker’s love does not suffer the fears of the state’s actions, and to the character of his love, the policies of the state are often traitorous indignities that usurp the individual in fits and starts.

It is necessary to remember that his speaker lived under a monarchy, and the governed had no say in how they were governed. Thus, references to politics or governing by this speaker reveal a radical gulf between the spiritual and the political.

Instead of functioning as a part of the obedient crowd, the love, or soul, of this speaker "all alone stands hugely politic," but it moves in an alternate universe from ordinary politics because it neither "grows with heat, nor drowns with showers."

His love does not embody the physical but the spiritual, where it is not subject to the ravages of the physical universe and that old nemesis, Time.

The Couplet: Perfect Balance and Harmony

To this I witness call the fools of time,
Which die for goodness, who have liv’d for crime.

The speaker then testifies as a "witness" against the "fools of time," who are subject to Time’s vicissitudes, or the pairs of opposites. His love remains in perfect balance and harmony because it transcends the common lot of humankind.

It cannot be burned by heat, it cannot be drowned by water, and it cannot be forced to suffer the trammels of aging.

Without this awareness and unity with one’s love, or soul, the angry mob will "die for goodness, who have liv’d for crime." The speaker suggests that it is a crime against the soul not to live in it.

It is a crime against one’s individuality to follow blindly the policies of a monarchy without understanding that one’s true life, love, and existence blissfully wait within.

Introduction and Text of Shakespeare Sonnet 125: "Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy"

Speaking to his muse, the craftsman in sonnet 125 concludes that despite his dedication to the composition of poetry, all he has to offer his muse is his own soul power.

The speaker poses two questions then offers his answers. Again, he is exploring his own talent as it is complemented with his must. This speaker continues to fashion his little dramas using his technique of questioning as he attempts to explore his inner most thoughts in order to evaluate the purity.

His goal as he has often stated is to present his art and inform it with beauty, truth, and love. He never fails to keep those qualities in focus.

Shakespeare Sonnet 125: "Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy"

Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet foregoing simple savour
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?
No; let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mix’d with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.
Hence, thou suborn’d informer! a true soul
When most impeach’d stands least in thy control.

Reading of Sonnet 125

Commentary on Shakespeare Sonnet 125: "Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy"

In sonnet 125, the speaker is addressing his muse, concluding that despite his dedication and even addiction to poetry creation, all he has to give his muse is his own soul.

First Quatrain: An Opening Inquiry

Were’t aught to me I bore the canopy
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which prove more short than waste or ruining?

In the first quatrain of sonnet 125, the speaker asks a question: was I the one who brought any attention to myself, my outward behavior, or did I create any useful foundations that attested merely to fickleness and debasement?

Through the question, the speaker is implying that he would not choose to flaunt himself or his works and would not claim that they could stand the test of time. The speaker’s desire always returns to the process of creating soulful masterpieces for later generations, not demonstrating his prowess to contemporaries by outward show.

The speaker also implies in the question that what he has created might, in fact, have a very short shelf life or might even bring negative criticism to him as their creator. But by framing such implications with a question, he is hinting that these estimations are probably not accurate.

Second Quatrain: Further Inquiry

Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all and more by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet foregoing simple savour
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?

The second quatrain also features a question: Have not my critics shown their poverty of thought by "gazing" too intently at my status and faintly at my works, while gliding over any good they possess and directing their attention to trifles?

The speaker likens his critics to people living in glass houses who throw stones. They are "dwellers on form and favour," and by positing that the speaker’s lot in life is low, they lose their credibility by concentrating on his class and less on his works.

They become "pitiful thrivers" who discounted "simple savour" while looking too intently for "compound sweet."

Third Quatrain: A Negative Answer

No; let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mix’d with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.

The speaker then answers his questions in the negative, showing that he will not concern himself with the possibility that he has become too showy, that he lost his ability to create substantial, long-living works, nor that he will give credence to his critics.

Instead, he demands of his muse to allow him to "be obsequious in thy heart." He commands, "take thou my oblation, poor but free," bringing forth his humbleness. Although he is financially "poor," it is more important for the artist to be "free," and he asserts that such is his situation.

He insists that his intentions are pure, but all he has to offer in the end is himself: his offering "is not mix’d with seconds," and contains no guile. The Muse, his conscience, and the writer soul "mutual[ly] render" what each possess.

There is "only me for thee." The speaker as artist can only offer himself to his muse, who has so graciously offered herself to him.

The Couplet: A Clean Heart and Grateful Mind

Hence, thou suborn’d informer! a true soul
When most impeach’d stands least in thy control.

Because the speaker humbly believes that he has assessed his situation rightly, he can claim himself to be "a true soul." Even if accused of offenses that he cannot "control," he knows his own soul has remained devoted to his goal, and for that he can claim a clean heart and grateful mind.

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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