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Shakespeare Sonnet 90: "Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now"

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction, Text, and Paraphrase of Sonnet 90: "Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now"

As readers have observed in the first 89 sonnets from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence by this talented sonneteer, his speakers are skilled in making arguments seemingly out of thin air. The speaker at times is bitterly complaining about his inability to face the blank page while he suffers that bane of all scribblers—writer’s block. Still this rich-minded, spiritually strong speaker is able to construct a fascinating drama out of his frustration. And that is exactly what all writers must do, if they are to continue growing their skills and their portfolios.

Sonnet 90: "Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now"

Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah! do not, when my heart hath ’scap’d this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquer’d woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purpos’d overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compar’d with loss of thee will not seem so.

The following offers a rough paraphrase of sonnet 90:

If you must disparage me, go ahead; it does seem at times that whole world works against me. Go ahead and align with my enemies who would bring me down and do not bother to check on me after I am brought so low. However, when I show that I am stronger than your attempts to belittle me, do not try to sneak up on me from behind like a defeated coward would do; just get along and do not try to make things worse. If you intend to forsake me, do it while I am still somewhat strong and facing other miseries; the worst thing is that I lose you, not the grief itself. If I lose you, all other misery will seem light in comparison.

Reading of Sonnet 90

Commentary

The speaker makes light of other defeats that would pale in comparison to losing his muse. The notion of such a comparison/contrast can offer imagery for a dramatic effect.

First Quatrain: Addressing His Muse

Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:

Once again addressing his muse, the speaker faces the possible flight of his muse from him. He exaggerates the situation by telling the muse to hate him, if she must. But the clever speaker also commands her to do it quickly while he is being pummeled by others. He then asks her not to bother to return, for he will not be fit to accept her again once he suspects that he has her lost permanently.

The clever speaker is once again concocting a situation that requires colorful language. The mere notion that his muse would hate him offers him phrases such as "bent my deeds," "spite of fortune," and "drop in for an after-loss." Once the speaker has established a line of thinking, the images that reveal the concoction seem to appear out of thin air. This speaker has such confidence in his ability to squeeze blood out of turnip that he never has any compunction about making his repeated attempts. Sometimes brainstorming produces dreck which can also be transformed with little effort into beautiful thoughts and feelings that inhabit the images.

Second Quatrain: A Fickle Muse

Ah! do not, when my heart hath ’scap’d this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquer’d woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purpos’d overthrow.

The speaker then commands the muse not to return again to cause him grief, for he knows and avers that he will be able to soldier on. He will escape the "sorrow." But this crafty speaker also knows how love-turned-to-hate wants to add insult to injury. He commands his fickle muse not to bother producing inclement weather that can just be reversed upon the coming of the very next day. The clouds that move across the sky in the morning may be whisked away by noon as if they had never been.

The speaker will not allow himself to suffer from his lot no matter what the trials and tribulations that lot may bring. He remains vigilant but more importantly, he remains confident that he will not succumb to any loss, or seeming loss, perpetrated by circumstances. Even though he accepts the fact that much remains beyond his control, he also understands the extent and the limit of his own ability to bring about necessary change. His little dramas continue to await the eyeballs that will eventually herald them into power. This satisfied speaker can rely upon his early works to spill much needed lush waters that will motivate his fecund and everlastingly fertile mind to ply its skills in all cases.

Third Quatrain: Commanding the Muse

If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compar’d with loss of thee will not seem so.

The speaker then commands his erratic muse not to leave him after he has been castigated by other miseries. He prefers to face her absence along with the other griefs. The worst thing the speaker could face is the loss of his muse, and if he faces that first, then he knows he will be made stronger and more capable of enduring all other losses. As he rationalizes any loss, he also vouches safe his own position of strength from which he is always arguing.

The Couplet: No Comparison

And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compar’d with loss of thee will not seem so.

The other "woe[s]" that the speaker must suffer cannot compare with "strains of woe" with which losing his muse would burden him. This speaker then commands his muse to do him the courtesy of permitting him to recover at his own speed. Accepting the fact that the muse must venture off from time to time, he takes every precaution to keep his balance. He must harmonizes his inner equilibrium with outer circumstances, a fact that he has learned early on but which becomes more and more apparent as he progresses in his acquisition of skill.

Michael Dudley - Bard Identity: Becoming an Oxfordian

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes