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Shakespeare Sonnets 77, "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear” and 33, "Full many a glorious morning . . . "

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 77: "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear"

In sonnet 77 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker is engaging the useful devices of a mirror and the empty pages of a book. He chooses those two objects in order to motivate himself to keep laboring intensely at his sonnet creation.

The speaker is expressing creatively his simple wish to complete a full dramatic record of his thoughts and feelings.

The speaker is endeavoring to create a dramatic memoir to serve as a reminder of his early perceptions of love and truth that he may peruse in his final years.

He insists that these mementos remain loyal to truth and reality so they may serve honestly as clear representations of his early perceptions of all that he deems good and beautiful.

Sonnet 77: "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear"

Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
These vacant leaves thy mind’s imprint will bear,
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste.
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
Time’s thievish progress to eternity.
Look! what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, deliver’d from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.

Reading of Sonnet 77

Commentary on Sonnet 77

The speaker is conversing with himself in this sonnet, which is an installment from "The Muse" thematic group of this sequence. He is musing intensely and profoundly in order to create a genuine "poetself," a place where he can continue to remind his creative faculty of the importance of his work.

He insists that he must continue crafting his fine poems—the ones that will result in his 154-sonnet sequence.

First Quatrain: The Poet's Persona

Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
These vacant leaves thy mind’s imprint will bear,
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste.

The speaker admonishes his poet’s persona that three instruments will keep him informed about his progress:

  1. his mirror will remind him that he is aging;
  2. his clock will remind him that he is wasting time, and
  3. the empty pages of his book will persist in reminding him that he must continue to create and be productive in order to fill those blank pages with "learning."

The creative speaker must continue to produce his sonnets so that he will be able to enjoy his creations into old age.

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The speaker has affirmed his ability to create, but because of human inertia and habits of procrastination, he must continually remind himself of his goals. He has likely already wasted more time than he thinks can afford, but he knows he can persevere if he can muster the proper motivation.

The triple prompts of an aging face staring back from the mirror, the fleeting time measured by the clock, and empty pages that he needs to fill seem to be working to urge the speaker on to his creative efforts.

Second Quatrain: The Mirror and the Clock

The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
Time’s thievish progress to eternity.

The speaker then again refers to the mirror and the clock. The mirror will "truly show" "the wrinkles" that will begin developing as the speaker ages, while the clock will keep ticking off the minutes as his life speeds by. But the mirror can be used as a motivational tool only if the speaker/poet will keep in mind the image of "mouthed graves."

The open grave waits for the speaker who has ceased his work and can no longer create his valuable poems. The speaker creates such a gruesome image in order to offer himself motivation to spur his inner writer to greater effort that he may stop wasting his precious moments.

The speaker’s ability to urge himself on corresponds to his ability to fashion his creations. He has a talent for crafting beautiful, strong sonnets—a fact that has become clear to him. Now he must make his effort to fulfill that talent.

This effort requires a different skill but one that he knows is equally important. A skill unrealized remains as useless as a skill that never existed. He, therefore, engages every moment and all of his mental energy to make sure he realizes and engages his talent.

Third Quatrain: Command to Understand

Look! what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, deliver’d from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.

The speaker then shouts a command, "Look!" He commands his poetself to understand that he will not be able to remember all of the important and fascinating details of this life unless he fashions them into useful artifacts, that is, the sonnets, and "[c]ommits [them] to these waste blanks."

The speaker insists that he must create his works because they are like his children, "deliver’d from [his] brain." As the speaker/creator saves his "children" and fashions them into poems he will "take a new acquaintance," and he will be reminded of his experiences in his old age.

The speaker appears to be grasping each moment, finding new ways to express ideas that extend universally to all artists.

He has envisioned a world for his art, and he works to build that world with present metaphoric and mystical realities, in order that in his later years he can look back at his works and remember what he thought, how he felt, and even why he works so hard to create that world.

The Couplet: His Own Enrichment

These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.

In the couplet, the speaker concludes his premise that if he makes haste and stays productive, he will be glad and "profit" much from "[his] book." The speaker predicts that his enrichment will come from two sources: (1) the spiritual, which is the most important, and (2) the material, because he will also be able to gain monetarily from the sale of his book.

The speaker will "enrich" his memory, his heart and soul, as well as his pocketbook. The motivation must satisfy the speaker on all levels, if it is to work. The speaker has noted many times in many sonnets that he is interested in capturing only beauty and truth.

The speaker knows that only what is true and beautiful will enhance his spirit as he looks back upon his life and his works. He also knows that this sequence of sonnets will have meaning and value for others also only if the poems contained therein are filled with truth and beauty, qualities with which others can identity.

The speaker also knows that folks will not appreciate the vulgar and the mundane as they look to experience through poetry the pure and exceptional. This speaker remains aware that his exceptional talent has the ability to render him able to create a world that he and others will be capable of appreciating down through the centuries.

Shakespeare Sonnet 33: "Full many a glorious morning have I seen"

Sonnet 33 offers an extended metaphor, dramatizing the phenomenon of clouds hiding the sun. The sun represents the speaker’s muse; the clouds are lulls in inspiration, as the writer faces another bout of writer’s block, but still manages to pull off a brilliant little drama, despite that malady.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 33: "Full many a glorious morning I have seen"

Sonnet 33, from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, extends a metaphor of the sun and clouds, dramatizing the natural phenomenon of clouds as they hide the sun.

It follows then that the sun represents the metaphoric equivalence of the speaker’s writing talent or muse, while the clouds stand for the periodic spells of dryness causing lulls in the writer's inspiration.

Writers refer to this period of dryness, this period in which they suffer the inability to create, as writer's block. Yes, even the great poet of the "Shakespeare" brand did suffer such an indignity.

The way this writer meets the challenge of writing should give hope to all who struggle to spread words across a page and remind writers to use that flaw, to delve deep into it, for the Shakespeare writer managed to pen some of his best sonnets dramatizing that fact of a writer’s life.

Sonnet 33: "Full many a glorious morning have I seen"

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all-triumphant splendour on my brow;
But, out! alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

Reading of Sonnet 33

Commentary on Sonnet 33

The extended metaphor of sonnet 33 dramatizes clouds hiding the sun, with the sun representing the speaker’s writing talent or muse and the clouds representing the lulls in inspiration.

First Quatrain: The Sun

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy

In the first quatrain of sonnet 33, the speaker reports having seen the sun’s rays on a "glorious morning" when they "[f]latter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye." The morning is made glorious by the golden-rich light of the life-giving star.

The speaker has also watched as the sun "kiss[es] with golden face the meadows green." The kiss of the sun literally turns the meadows green, and on "pale streams," the speaker has observed the sunlight "gilding [the streams] with heavenly alchemy."

The sun’s rays seem to magically transform the water of a common brook into a celestial vision.

Such innovative terms as "heaven alchemy" reveal the creative thinking of the writer. Even as he offers complaints, his mind remains engaged in extraordinary thinking. Instead of giving in to melancholy, he keeps observing, rearranging, revisioning, and finally recreating ideas to turn them into golden metaphors.

Second Quatrain: Rays That Hide

Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:

However, as soon as the speaker has seen the wondrous marvels that the sun performs on earthly things, that same heroic orb allows "the basest clouds" to hide the glorious rays. The sun allows those ugly clouds to keep its beautiful face hidden as it continues its movement across the day from east to west.

The speaker adamantly compares the clouds negatively with the sun and even deems the fact that the sun permits itself to be hidden by such an "ugly rack" to be a "disgrace."

Of course, clouds do not always function in a disgraceful, ugly manner—only when they have the audacity to obliterate the marvel that is the sun. The importance of sunlight on the earth renders the clouds a nuisance as they brazenly march across the face of the big star.

Any diminishment of the sunlight that has been deemed the contributor to a "glorious morning" can easily be condemned when garnered for dramatic effect.

Third Quatrain: A Brief Glimpse of Glory

Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all-triumphant splendour on my brow;
But, out! alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.

In the third quatrain, the speaker asserts that one morning quite early the sun was shining all-gloriously on his very "brow," and the first thing you know, another cloud came along and "mask’d" the wonderful rays from his face. The speaker was allowed the glory of the sun on his face "but one hour."

The speaker is dramatizing the wondrous feeling of the sun on his face, but then along comes another cloud to interfere with that sunbath. The short period of time of only an hour was not enough time.

Remembering that the sun is the metaphor for his writing muse, the reader will realize that the speaker is saying that a burst of inspiration for writing was his for only an hour, and writers need much more time for musing on, contemplating, and then composing their creations.

The Couplet: A Pun for Sun

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

The speaker finally vows that despite its so easily giving in to hiding behind clouds, he loves the bright star no less and avers, "Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth."

The speaker is punning "suns" for "sons." Sons of the earth "stain" with ink on a page, if they are possessed of the talent with which the speaker is so abundantly possessed.

Therefore, those with talent enough are like the sun; even as they suffer low periods of inspiration, they continue to be as inspired as the sun does continue to shine despite the clouds.

Regardless of whether the sun’s rays are visible to those on earth, the sun continues to influence all living creatures and all phenomena such as mountain-tops, meadows, and streams.

The Sun as Metaphor

Sonnet 33 is highly metaphorical; it is, in fact, an extended metaphor. The sun is metaphorically compared to the artist’s talent or muse. Clouds dramatize the periods of dryness of inspiration to compose.

The poet then is able to realize that in spite of the lulls, his talent, like the sun, remains always with him and is always motivating him to keep that being in him, recognized as the artist, and the artist’s love alive and well functioning.

This speaker demonstrates the learning process included in his musing. He will begin with a conundrum, often including a complaint; he will then offer observations along with explanations that he finally puts together, forming a valid conclusion.

This thinking process follows his natural ability to see creatively, and his writing skill then allows him to select marvelous images, metaphors, and endearing terms with which he fashions his little songs, his little dramas.

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 September 02, 2020:

Prithviraj Shirole - thank you for your comment and the kind words. I am glad to hear you were enriched by my commentary. A useful exercise for even a casual reader is to write something in response to a work, whether it be a poem, story, novel, essay, or any work of art. By crafting a written response, even if written solely for one's own eyes, one deepens awareness for further appreciating such works.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on September 02, 2020:

Thank you, maven101, for your response.

Yes, John Keats was heavily influenced by the Shakespearean works. Legend has it that Keats had a bust of “Shakespeare” and that Keats wrote his poems sitting beside it, thinking the bust would inspire him. You are perceptive to have spotted the similarity of images and even the style of Keats both of which were inspired by the Shakespeare writer.

Prithviraj Shirole from India on August 31, 2020:

Beautiful explained the meaning of the poem. Enjoyed reading it and learned a lot. Thanks for explaining.

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on August 31, 2020:

Thoughtful and scholarly encapsulation of Shakespeare's sonnet 77...I am reminded of Keats's "When I have Fears that I may Cease to be" when he states "before this pen has gleaned my teeming brain"...Keats was also talking to himself...His reference to unfilled books held back by "garners, the full ripened grain" reminds Shakespeare's Third quatrain.....And, of course, his "Ode to a Grecian Urn" where he states "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty"...Independent thoughts or influenced by Shakespeare..?

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