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Shakespeare Sonnet 71: "No longer mourn for me when I am dead"

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 71: "No longer mourn for me when I am dead"

At first reading, "Muse Sonnet" 71 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence may seem to be a departure from the theme of writing and the muse. However, it becomes clear that the request for readers and listeners not to sorrow over the death of the writer are made simply to allow that audience to concentrate on the art, not the artist.

This speaker does not want his life to be scrutinized nor his death deeply mourned because such scrutiny and mourning would detract from focusing clearly and intently on the sonnets. This speaker repeatedly demonstrates that his love for creating his art remains bolstered by his strong talent. His pleasure and pride in his work constitute the main focus of his life. He knows his strength, and he plays to it wholeheartedly.

Sonnet 71: "No longer mourn for me when I am dead"

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if,—I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

Reading of Sonnet 71

Commentary

In this sonnet from the thematic group, "The Muse Sonnets," the speaker is admonishing his readers and listeners to keep their period of mourning short after he has died. He wants his little dramatic creations to take center stage and not be upstaged by his biography or personality.

First Quatrain: Addressing Future Readers

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:

The first quatrain of sonnet 71 finds the speaker addressing his future readers and listeners. He then requests a favor from those individuals, asking them to shorten all periods of mourning for him after he has left this life. Their mourning period should endure only as long as is required a "surly sullen bell" to cease its ringing. That "warning" bell at some unknown point in the future will report the speaker's death to the world.

That death ring will announce to the village that the speaker has left his body, and that body will now go. "with vilest worms to dwell." The speaker releases his contempt for the world in this sonnet by calling it, "this vile world." That "world" includes all the nasty critics, creepy poetasters, and despicable charlatans whom the speaker has chastised abundantly in his earlier sonnets. But even as the world is filled with villainous people, the speaker's physical encasement will be submitted to an even worse fate as it enters the domain of the "vilest worms." Oddly however, the speaker then states that his body will be living among the worms, as he says, "with vilest worms to dwell"; this state of events remains in contrast to the usual notion of a body being eaten up by the worms.

Second Quatrain: Asking a Favor

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Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues to ask his future readers and listeners for a favor. He strangely requests his audience not even "remember" the speaker/writer who wrote those lines. The speaker states that he loves his future readers/listeners so much that he would never want to cause them pain. Such pain seems to be pressing the speaker even as he writes. Just the thought of causing others such sorrow shakes his equanimity.

Assuaging any future grief and sorrow of loved ones becomes the speaker's goal. He always strives to reduce sadness, melancholy, and sorrow from his life. He has taken as his goal to create art that is filled with love. This speaker has shown repeatedly that he knows he is blessed with a unique talent. He wants that talent put to use only for positive purposes, such as sharing beauty, love, and truth.

Third Quatrain: Dramatizing a Request

O! if,—I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay;

The speaker now is dramatizing an additional request of his future readers and listeners. As readers experience the speaker's sonnet, the speaker commands them not to utter the speaker’s name, but "let your love even with my life decay." The speaker desires that his readers, listeners, fans concentrate only on his polished sonnets and not grieve over the speaker's death.

This speaker's notion of not using the name of the poet likely accounts for the poet's use of a nom de plume. By using the poet's pen name, the reader will not be engaging the writer's true identity. If the reader were to pronounce the real name of the writer, it would then become more difficult for that reader to forget who wrote the piece. The speaker is attempting to instruct the reader/listener to eliminate all emotion and thought of the speaker that would unnecessarily burden the reader. The speaker wants all the readers' attention placed on his verse not his personality.

The Couplet: Odd Requests

Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

In the couplet, the speaker manages to insert a further reason for his odd requests. Openly mourning the speaker might bring mockery on his readers, he fears. Again, the speaker shows compassion for his readers. But ultimately, his goal is to focus on his creations. He wants nothing to blur the vision of those who would concentrate upon his art.

This speaker has shown repeatedly how important his talent for writing is to him and how very urgently he wants his beautiful creations to shine before the world's eye. By insisting that the readers and listeners in his audience remain steadfastly concentrated on the works and not on their composer, the speaker again emphasizes that he deems his creations more important than their creator.

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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