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Shakespeare Sonnet 87

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is  dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction, Text of Sonnet 87, and Paraphrase

Interestingly, the speaker again is facing the dreaded bane of all scribblers—writer's block. And yet even more interesting is the way this clever writer goes about overcoming that problem. If his muse intends to abandon this writer, what better act than to take the initiative and abandon his muse before she can complete her get-away!

Sonnet 87

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but, waking, no such matter.

The following paragraph offers a rough paraphrase of Sonnet 87:

A final good-bye to you who are too difficult for me to keep! And I am sure you know that you are very valuable. You know how your worth is more than I can afford because my ability to keep one as valuable as you is limited. How could I keep you without your permission? And how is it that I could ever be fit to hold you? I lack such importance, and so I have no way to keep you. You gave your inspiration to me, but then apparently you did not then know your own value, or else you thought I was better equipped to accept your favors. So when you understood my poverty, you decided to abandon me. So it seems that I dreamed that I was more valuable than I thought I was, for when I woke, I realized the truth.

Reading of Sonnet 87

Commentary

Sonnet 87 begins a sequence in which the speaker/poet addresses his Muse, again bemoaning the fact that she sometimes seems to abandon him.

First Quatrain: Cannot Possess

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing
And like enough thou know’st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.

In the first quatrain, the speaker exclaims a defiant, "Farewell!" and then adds, "thou art too dear for my possessing." He then accuses his muse of behaving rather superciliously. His muse knows she is too precious and difficult for the speaker to hold. The speaker then explains that the high value that his muse places on her company renders it all the more proper that he should be "releasing" her.

The speaker makes it clear that he understands his claim on his muse has always been and will always be tenuous. This talented speaker is well aware that she may abandon him permanently, even as she does temporarily from time to time. Thus, he strikes out boldly by beating her to the punch—releasing her before she abandons him.

Second Quatrain: A Fluid Style

For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.

The speaker then adopts a fluid style as he asks of his muse, "For how do I hold thee but by they granting?" The speaker proclaims repeatedly that he does not deserve the "riches" that his muse has heretofore bestowed upon him. So he has no complaint that she should take back her inspiration.

Third Quatrain: Inspirational Storehouse

Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gav’st it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.

In the third quatrain, the speaker draws back a bit and notes that his muse probably gave him a store of her inspiration not realizing her own worth at the time. Then when she finally realized her value, she decided to take it back. She judged it better to refrain from inspiring the speaker further.

The Couplet: Go from Flattery

Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
In sleep a king, but, waking, no such matter.

The speaker then likens his early encounters with his muse to that of a dream. In his dream, the speaker had fancied he was a king, but when he woke up, he realized that he had been mistaken. And now the speaker is facing the fact that he might have written his last inspired piece of work, and he is assuaging his pain by feigning his release of his blessed muse.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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