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

Updated on February 2, 2018
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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: Text of Sonnet 90 and Paraphrase

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 but fairly close 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.

As readers have observed in the first 89 sonnets from 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 poet is able to construct a fascinating drama out of his frustration. What all writers must do! If they are to earn their salt!

Reading of Sonnet 90

Commentary on Sonnet 90

First Quatrain: "Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now"

Once again addressing his Muse, the speaker/poet faces the possible flight of his Muse from him. He exaggerates 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.

Second Quatrain: "Ah! do not, when my heart hath ’scap’d this sorrow"

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, "Give not a windy night a rainy morrow, / To linger out a purpos’d overthrow."

Third Quatrain: "If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last"

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.

The Couplet: "And other strains of woe, which now seem woe"

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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