Skip to main content

Shakespeare Sonnets 25: "Let those who are in favour with their stars" and 32: "If thou survive my well-contented day"

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 25: "Let those who are in favour with their stars"

Once again, the speaker is honoring his talent because the love he speaks of is not limited to that of another human being.

Many of these poems in this group 18-126, from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, address the poem directly, or speak about the happiness and enrichment the speaker derives from being able to compose such poems.

This speaker sincerely loves and cherishes his amazing talent, and he considers his achievement more important than the approval of any other human being.

The speaker in Sonnet 25 is asserting that only unconditional love is worthy of one's attention because fame and status are nothing but fleeting favors, while love will continue to give joy and gladness, along with the sustenance each human heart craves.

Sonnet 25: "Let those who are in favour with their stars"

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:
Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.

Reading of Sonnet 25

Commentary

The speaker in Sonnet 25 is exploring the nature of unconditional love, admonishing his true self of the flighty nature of fame and status in the eyes of humanity. He cherishes the true and the permanent, and he has become aware that his talent remains the font from which flows much joy, gladness, and contentment.

First Quatrain: High Regard Personally

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.

In the first quatrain, the speaker states that those famously honored by the public may "boast" of their accomplishments, while he, who has attained no such exalted status, will remain inconspicuous as he continues to enjoy that which he personally holds in high regard.

At this point, readers will understand that they are not yet made privy to what the speaker treasures above name and fame and they may suspect that they must wait until the couplet to find out what it is.

One might argue that the speaker is also "boasting" as he makes his own humble situation sound more attractive than those famous ones who garner public attention. They have their "proud titles" while he delights in what he implies is something more substantial.

This versatile artist/speaker, even as he seems to elevate his own status, has the remarkable ability to make his claims so substantial that they transpire to truthfulness and that truth erases the possibility of mere hubris.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Owlcation

This speaker, unlike poetasters and other charlatans, can express his abilities without sounding like an exaggerating mannequin.

Second Quatrain: Humility Wins

Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.

Even favored celebrities rewarded and regaled by royalty hold a position no higher than a simple flower such as the marigold, which has the attention of the sun, but without that attention, the flower shrivels up and dies.

And when the fame wears off and the "princes" no longer look favorably upon those famed individuals, their "glory" simply dies, as the glory and beauty of the marigold does.

The true poet, who captures the experiences of genuine relationships and colorfully and faithfully dramatizes them in his little poems, will always find an audience who will cherish the insights of the genuine that accurately gives them back their experiences.

Only dullard, doltish minds will continue to follow the poetasters and fakes; only those who are divorced from their own reality will glom onto that which will eventually dry up and blow away.

Third Quatrain: Twin Fickle Partners—Fame and Favor

The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:

The third quatrain finds the speaker offering yet a further description of those twin fickle partners—fame and favor. Even battle-scarred formerly winning warriors continue to be afforded high regard only if they keep on winning. If a loss comes to these hero-warriors, they lose their accolades and are "from the book of honour" deleted.

The poor warrior's "thousand victories" then are not enough to keep him in high regard, so he has toiled in vain in this speaker's opinion. The speaker wants the reader/listener to see that trying to elevate one’s self by deeds that win the attention of others is a vain activity.

The fact that widespread favorable attention remains an illusion is a fundamental principle that every artist of any stripe—poet, playwright, photographer, painter, sculptor—needs to take to heart.

Fooling the public has never been more than a fool’s errand, even if at first that fooling seems to be taking hold. Only the true, the genuine, and the real have any hopes of becoming classics in their fields.

The Couplet: Vain Strivings

Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.

The speaker says that the great warriors, politicians, and others who rely on the good will of authorities and the public can have their vain strivings. For him, he is happy because of love: he is made happy by being able to love and to be loved. He honors unconditional love, which "may not remove or be remov’d."

And the place where this speaker's unconditional love finds its ground and movement is in his art. His poems receive his love and reflect it back permanently and without condition.

This speaker’s art remains his primary focus, as he continues to muse, to analyze, and to consider the world and all the players who enter and exit the stage of life. His focus is less a philosophy than a way of life.

He practices his art faithfully, and as some of his sonnets also attest, when he fails to live up to his own notion of what devotion means, he suffers mightily until he has corrected that failure. Such dedication can arise out of and progress only through unconditional love.

Shakespeare Sonnet 32: "If thou survive my well-contented day"

In Shakespeare sonnet 32, the speaker seems more humble than usual about his poems, even as he creatively and colorfully personifies a sonnet, giving it the ability to read. The speaker is musing on the future of his body of work, speculating about its ability to remain relevant in a changing world.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 32: "If thou survive my well-contented day"

Shakespeare sonnet 32, from the thematic group, "The Muse Sonnets," in the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, personifies the sonnet, giving it the delicious power to read and understand the differences between form and content.

The speaker is speculating that if some better poet comes along and outperforms the speaker with his poetic prowess, the addressee, the personified sonnet, should read the poem for the speaker’s love and read the other poets for their skill.

This injunction placed on his addressee guarantees that his sonnets retain a high purpose: the repository of his love.

This speaker remains adamant that his works hold only the qualities of love, truth, and beauty. While he hopes his works will be read by the following generations, he is more interested in making his works as true to his feelings and thinking as possible.

By addressing a personified sonnet and giving it the ability to read, he grounds himself in his own generation as he projects a possible failure into the future.

Sonnet 32: "If thou survive my well-contented day"

If thou survive my well-contented day
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripp’d by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rime*,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died, and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

*The Shakespeare writer was creating his sonnets two centuries before Dr. Samuel Johnson erroneously introduced the spelling "rhyme" into English. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error."

Reading of Sonnet 32

Commentary on Sonnet 32: "If thou survive my well-contented day"

In Shakespeare sonnet 32, the speaker seems to project a more humble position than usual about his poems as he addresses his loved one, a personified sonnet.

First Quatrain: Hypothetically Speaking

If thou survive my well-contented day
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover

The first two quatrains of Shakespeare sonnet 32 are structured with if/then clauses: the first quatrain presents a hypothetical and the second presents what should follow. The "if" hypothetical is if his beloved sonnet should out live him, and the "then" is that the personified sonnet should re-read his poems a certain way.

The speaker begins by referring to the day he dies as "my well-contented day" indicating that he will be accepting of his demise. Still the poet/speaker calls death a "churl" and colorfully describes his post-death lot as his bones being dust covered.

The speaker refers to his poems as, "[t]hese poor rude lines," and throughout the sonnet, seems to disparage his poetry.

Second Quatrain: Special Comparison/Contrast

Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripp’d by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rime,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.

If the speaker’s belovèd sonnet should outlive him and also if the poem happens to re-read his poem, he wants it to compare them to the poems of others, but if they are not as well crafted as others, it should, "[r]eserve them for [his] love, not for their rime."

The speaker asks the personified sonnet to remember that his poems contain his heart and soul, so each poem should consider that fact above their technical skill. Such skill as this speaker's might be bested by "happier men."

But his personal love for his talent, writing ability, and the sonnets is retained in, "[t]hese rude lines of thy deceased lover."

The speaker’s love for his sonnets, indeed all of his varied canon, is declared in virtually every piece of composition. He can even be seen fretting about his periods of writer’s block because of his obsession to write.

Such periods become monumental areas for discovery, however, because this speaker retains his great love for his ability, and he knows he will pull out of whatever doldrums that are bound to visit him for time to time.

Third Quatrain: Repetition of Love

O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:

Then the speaker tells the lover-sonnet what to think, which takes up the rest of the poem, and instead of referring to the sonnet as a "lover," he employs the term "friend."

But what he tells his lover/friend is essentially a repetition. The speaker wants the sonnet to have the opinion that if its poet/friend/lover had lived longer and his Muse had grown, his love poems could have been better and strong enough to compete "in ranks of better equipage."

The speaker is focusing on a premature death for himself. He believes that if he can live long enough, his talent will only grow stronger, but if he dies too soon, that talent will have remained at the same level he retains at the time he is now writing.

If he makes his sonnet/reader aware of certain inevitable facts, he is sure that when the sonnet reads his works in future, it will take into consideration the fact that if the speaker had lived longer, he would have improved in his ability to create his little dramas.

The Couplet: No Room for Improvement in Skill

But since he died, and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

However, because the poet/friend died, and now there are far better poets, the personified sonnet will read the better poets for their prowess, but he admonished the sonnet to read its friend’s poems "for his love."

Truthfully, this poem's skill may appear to denigrate his poems but in actuality, it once again lifts them to an extremely high position, as the poet covers himself lest, in fact, a better poet should come along after his departure from the earthly art scene.

The poem reveals not only the poet's skill that he so cherishes, but it also unveils a definite prescience that his art will never have to face worry over being out-performed; his stature is safe, and he is sure of it.

He expects such to happen because of his genius in creating new, useful, entertaining, and enlightening scenarios filled with not only colorful language but also language that holds profundities of which most artists remain incapable.

Waxing Humble in the Face of Great Talent

As the earlier explication of this group of sonnets has emphasized, most of these poems remain dedicated to a celebration of the poet’s poetic talent, and often the speaker actually addresses the poem itself, as this one also does.

The uniqueness of this sonnet is the personification of the sonnet itself. He creates in the personified sonnet the ability to read, in order to admonish the poem to read his sonnets with a certain purpose.

If the speaker is somehow outdone by the talent of stronger poets in the future, then the sonnet should read his poems only for the love they contain and then read other poets for their skill.

By creating such a unique situation, the sonneteer is virtually guaranteeing that he will never be "outstripp’d by [any] pen." This speaker likes to cover his talent against any eventuality with his many layers of metaphoric and often metaphysical prowess.

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.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on November 14, 2020:

Thank you, Audrey, for your comment. Yes, the Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence offers a great read. The mastercraftmanship of this set of poems is unparalleled. The staging of each sonnet remains a superb example of poetry creation at its best.

The universal themes plus the deeply personal revelations perform the very essence of poetry's purpose, to give life's experiences back to the reader. We can alway identify with the sonneteer's place in the world, his feelings, and how he plans to deal with joy as well as adversity.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on November 13, 2020:

I enjoyed this and thank you for sharing. I now have a better understanding of these sonnets.

Related Articles