Shakespeare Sonnet 85: "My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still"

Updated on February 2, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Edward de Vere. 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 85

In sonnet 85, the speaker/poet virtually lauds his own poems while humbly attributing their worth to the Muse, who remains visibly humble.

This speaker has devised many dramas in which he has shown that his humility can remain humble while at the same time demonstrate that he knows his work is special.

The speaker can assert his worth while at the same time dramatize his inner humbleness that remains clothed in gratitude.

My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still

MY tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still
Whilst comments of your praise, richly compil’d,
Deserve their character with golden quill,
And precious phrase by all the Muses fil’d.
I think good thoughts, whilst others write good words,
And, like unletter’d clerk, still cry ‘Amen’
To every hymn that able spirit affords,
In polish’d form of well-refined pen.
Hearing you prais’d, I say ‘’Tis so, ’tis true,’
And to the most of praise add something more;
But that is in my thought, whose love to you,
Though words come hindmost, holds his rank before.
Then others for the breath of words respect,
Me for my dumb thoughts, speaking in effect.

Reading of Sonnet 85

First Quatrain: "My tongue-tied Muse in manners holds her still"

The speaker is addressing his sonnet, telling it that its creator remains quiet when others praise it, but he freely admits that the sonnet deserves the "praise, richly compil’d."

The sonnet shines as though written with a pen of golden ink. Not only the Muse of poetry, but also all of the other Muses are filled with pleasure at the valuable sonnets that the speaker has created.

This speaker claims that his Muse is "tongue-tied," but the sonnet, as usual, demonstrates otherwise.

The speaker never allows himself to be tongue-tied, and at times, when he might be struggling to find expression, he merely blames the Muse until he once again takes command of his thoughts, compressing them into his golden sonnets.

Second Quatrain: "I think good thoughts, whilst others write good words"

While the speaker admits that he "think[s] good thoughts," it is the critics who "write good words" about his sonnets.

This talented speaker cannot take credit for their brilliance in exposing what a gifted writer he is. And thus, while he certainly agrees with those "good words," he can blush outwardly while inwardly "cry[ing] ‘Amen’."

The speaker now is emphasizing the force of his soul on his creative power as he refers to his poem as a "hymn." To each of his sonnets, he will owe his fame, any praise they may garner him, and also the recognition he will receive for having composed them.

The speaker remains eternally in deep agreement with his words: "In polish’d form of well-refined pen."

As the speaker distinguishes his ego from the sonnet itself and also his process in creating them, he will be able to attain a humbleness while at the same time completely agree that he, in fact, will always merit the praise his creations bring him.

Third Quatrain: "Hearing you prais’d, I say ‘’Tis so, ’tis true’"

The speaker then tells his sonnet that when he hears it praised, he says, "’Tis so, ’tis true."

But then the speaker also has something further to express regarding that praise; he would have to add some deprecating thought in order not to come off as a braggadocio.

Because the speaker’s foremost thought is always the love he puts into his sonnets, whatever his casual remarks tend to be, he knows that those remarks are much less important than those written into the sonnet.

The sonnet represents the speaker's soul force, not the conversational small talk that results from responding to those who praise his work.

The Couplet: "Then others for the breath of words respect"

While others praise his sonnets for their clever craft with words, the speaker feels that his thoughts, which remain unspoken but yet exist as the sonnet, are the ones that do the true speaking for him.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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