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Shakespeare Sonnet 89: "Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Introduction, Paraphrase, Text of Sonnet 89: "Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault"

The speaker in sonnet 89 knows that sometimes his works may not hold up to his standards. He accepts total blame when he fails to deliver a perfect polished sonnet. He desires to accept such blame because he wishes to remain of the mindset that his muse is perfect and would never lead him astray.

Sonnet 89: "Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault"

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I'll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
For thee, against myself I'll vow debate,
For I must ne'er love him whom thou dost hate.

The following provides a rough paraphrase of sonnet 89:

Tell me what mistake you think I have made and I will address your claim: if you think I am not walking properly, I will immediately stand still. I will not argue with you, however, about your criticisms. Neither your admiration nor condemnation will bother me as much as your wish to place restrictions on me. I alone will condemn myself, but knowing what you would wish would cause me to disregard my own style and look odd. If you decide not to accompany me as I muse, I will just have to look elsewhere for inspiration. I would not want to garner more of your disdain by continuing to do what you have condemned. I will simply allow myself to provide my own original material, but I will not disdain your absence though you should appear to have grown bitter.

Reading of Sonnet 89

Commentary

The speaker/poet again is addressing his muse, this time professing that he will not argue with the one who ultimately steadies his hand and focuses his spirit on his art.

First Quatrain: No Haggling with Inspiration

Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.

In the first quatrain, the speaker addresses his muse, saying that if she will let him know what his misbehavior has been, he will "comment upon that offence." And the speaker will cease whatever activities the muse thinks is unworthy, because he has no desire to haggle with his inspiration.

Second Quatrain: Argument as Enjoyment

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Thou canst not love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I ’ll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;

The speaker then says that his muse cannot "disgrace me half so ill," unless she tries to become too restrictive and "set a form upon desired change." This speaker, as has been seen in many sonnets, enjoys arguing with his muse. And he is apt to change his stance from time to time; even though he often complains about it.

The speaker also avers that he will not defend himself against the muse's accusations. This speaker is willing to "look strange" if, however, the muse desires such, even though he might seem to "disgrace" himself.

Third Quatrain: No Blame

Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.

After the muse has forsaken him, as she all to often is wont to do, the speaker vows that he, henceforth, will no longer keep calling on her "sweet beloved name." Instead, the speaker will permit her to leave, if he finds that he "should do it wrong." If he ever concocts a poem that is deemed "too much profane," he will not allow the muse to be blamed for the bad sonnet.

The speaker insists on to taking responsibility for his own flaws and errors. He desires that the muse remain perfect and a special model of inspiration and motivation. He will not allow his muse ever to suffer for his inadequate outpourings.

The Couplet: Neutralizing of Hate

For thee, against myself I ’ll vow debate,
For I must ne’er love him whom thou dost hate.

The speaker then asserts that he will continue his artistic endeavors alone, "myself I’ll vow debate." The speaker maintains that he cannot love that which the muse hates. However, the speaker knows that the nature of such hatred neutralizes itself in the continued practice of art. The speaker longs to believe that the muse’s bittersweet inspiration keeps him focused even as he occasionally languishes in uncontrolled emotion.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Using Shakespeare's Sonnet 89, can you discuss the notion of foregrounding in practical criticism?

Answer: No, nor could such a discussion be effected with any of the Shakespeare sonnets. "Foregrounding" in literature is the simple technique of throwing things at the wall to see what will stick. "Practical Criticism," as employed by I. A. Richards, was the result of a psychological experiment with the reader response theory. Therefore, this nonsensical question is based on the conflation of two absurd concepts that have little to nothing do to with reading and understanding classical literature.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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