Shakespeare Sonnet 87: "Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing"

Updated on October 24, 2017
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.

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Introduction: Text of Sonnet 87 and Paraphrase

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing

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.

Interestingly, the speaker again is facing the dreaded bane of writers, writer's block. And yet even more interesting is the way this clever write goes about overcoming that problem.

If the Muse intends to abandon the writer, what better act then to take the initiative and abandon the Muse before she can complete her get-away!

Reading of Sonnet 87

First Quatrain: “Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing”

In the first quatrain, the speaker exclaims a defiant, “Farewell!” and then adds, “thou art too dear for my possessing.” He then accuses the Muse of behaving rather superciliously. The Muse knows she is too precious and difficult for the speaker to hold.

The speaker then explains that the high value that the 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 the 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: “For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?”

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 the Muse has heretofore bestowed upon him. So he has no complaint that she should take back her inspiration.

Third Quatrain: “Thyself thou gav’st, thy own worth then not knowing”

In the third quatrain, the speaker draws back a bit and notes that the 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: “Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter”

The speaker then likens his early encounters with the 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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.