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Shakespeare Sonnets: 92 "But do thy worst to steal thyself away" and 78 "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

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

Opening Pages from First Publication of the Shakespeare Sonnets

Opening Pages from First Publication of the Shakespeare Sonnets

Text and Paraphrase of Sonnet 92: "But do thy worst to steal thyself away"

In sonnet 92 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker avows his unity with the soul force yet still holds back with an agnostic possibility that he might be mistaken, though he is certain he is not.

Sonnet 92: "But do thy worst to steal thyself away"

But do thy worst to steal thyself away
For term of life thou art assured mine;
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
For it depends upon that love of thine.
Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs,
When in the least of them my life hath end.
I see a better state to me belongs
Than that which on thy humour doth depend:
Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O! what a happy title do I find,
Happy to have thy love, happy to die:
But what ’s so blessed-fair that fears no blot?
Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.

The following is a rough paraphrase of sonnet 92:

Though you hide from me constantly, I know you will be with me for this entire lifetime. Your love and my life are equal. My life depends on your love and your love informs my life.

Knowing the immortality of my soul, nothing can make me afraid, even the most evil this world has to offer.

I realize that my own soul is more important than the moods I sometimes have to suffer. You cannot cause me affront though my mind tends to dither.

Thus, I can be joyful that I have your love, and I can be joyful even if I die for you are immortal and eternal. Still, the purest being will fears showing some fault, and I confess I sometimes have my doubts.

Reading of Sonnet 92

Commentary on Sonnet 92: "But do thy worst to steal thyself away"

The speaker in this sonnet avows his unity with the soul force yet still holds back with an agnostic possibility that he might be mistaken, though he is certain he is not.

First Quatrain: Addresses His Own Soul

But do thy worst to steal thyself away
For term of life thou art assured mine;
And life no longer than thy love will stay,
For it depends upon that love of thine.

Addressing his soul, the speaker dramatizes his realization that is soul is an immortal being; thus, his own true self is immortal, despite his lack of complete awareness.

The soul, he does realize, is made of love—Divine love. He understands that as long as his soul remains in his physical body, he will continue to live and perform his earthly duties.

The speaker avers that he knows his life is connected to and therefore “depends up that love of thine.” The soul’s love is the life force that keeps his body animated and infuses his mind with the ability to cogitate and create.

Second Quatrain: Soul Awareness

Then need I not to fear the worst of wrongs,
When in the least of them my life hath end.
I see a better state to me belongs
Than that which on thy humour doth depend:

The speaker then reports that the result of his soul awareness and the understanding that his soul is pure divine love allows him to be able to remain brave in the face of “the worst of wrongs.”

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The speaker “see[s] a better state to me belongs” after his earthly, physical awareness ends and his unique spiritual awakening begins. He realizes that the pure, inviolate state of the soul that remains perpetually balanced does not experience the vicissitudes of mood and “humour.”

The harmonious evenmindedness is a welcoming one for the speaker.

Third Quatrain: Chiding His Own Soul

Thou canst not vex me with inconstant mind,
Since that my life on thy revolt doth lie.
O! what a happy title do I find,
Happy to have thy love, happy to die:

The speaker then chides his soul that would never deign to “vex me with inconstant mind.” He knows that because his very life depends on the life force of his soul power, he is eternally bound to that soul force.

Because of this cosmic unity, the speaker can rejoice that he is “Happy to have thy love, happy to die.” For even in death, he will be still united with that all-important soul love.

The Couplet: Only Human

But what ’s so blessed-fair that fears no blot?
Thou mayst be false, and yet I know it not.

The speaker then admits that he is still as yet only a human being who may not be able to swear that he “fears no blot.”

The speaker finally offers a rather bland nod to his own soul, suggesting that he suspects that he could possibly be wrong in his guesses. However, if it does turn out that he is mistaken, it is because he is unable to realize his error.

Shakespeare Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

The speaker in sonnet 78 addresses his Muse with appreciation for her ever constant influence and power that elevates his art above lesser artists.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

The speaker in sonnet 78 compares his substantial Muse to that of other artists. He reveals that most examples of the engagement of a muse remains for cosmetic purposes of style and outward appearance in the art.

This speaker, however, employs his superior Muse for the purpose of creating content-rich, vital art filled with his favorite topics: love, beauty, and truth. Instead of merely constructing a beautiful, well-crafted sonnet form, this speaker is dedicated to establishing content of substance.

This gifted, talent-rich speaker knows he is gifted and talented, he knows he can concoct sonnet forms, but more important for him is that he inform his art with vitally important words of truth.

Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;
But thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.

Reading of Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

Commentary on Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

The speaker in sonnet 78 addresses his Muse with appreciation for her ever constant influence and power that elevates his art above lesser artists.

First Quatrain: Meshing of Theme and Subject

So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.

In the first quatrain of sonnet 78, the speaker is addressing his subject, "love," which he reveals that he has so often "invok’d for [his] Muse." The sonnets all mesh together the theme and subject, concentrating on the speaker’s talent for poetry creation and his fascination for and interest in "love" and "truth."

At times, the speaker addresses the poem itself and at other times he focuses on his subjects. Here is addressing his favorite subject "love." The speaker claims that "love" has provided him aid "in [his] verse."

Other subjects from time to time are attracted to his "alien pen," but under the influence of love, which he takes as his Muse, he is able to bring forth his "poesy."

Second Quatrain: The Singing of Angels

Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.

The speaker's favorite subject is akin to the singing of angels; even more astoundingly, the eyes of love have "taught the dumb on high to sing." The remarkable healing power of love even teaches "heavy ignorance" "to fly."

The "lofty" rarified air of love even "add[s] feathers to the learned’s wing." Those who are already bright become brilliant through this all pervading, shining love.

This love furthermore "give[s] grace a double majesty." These hyperbolic statements serve to underscore the exceptional quality of life that true, unconditional love offers as it effects and flourishes in the hands of a master craftsman the art of poetry.

Third Quatrain: Pride of Accomplishment

Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;

The speaker then imparts to his Muse, his love, that she can be "proud" of what the speaker does in her favor; his Muse remains the "influence." His inspiration has always come directly from the Muse.

The speaker's Muse can experience pride in the knowledge of all the positive creations she has assisted him in creating. They will forever remain brilliant examples of the high quality of this Muse.

While comparing his inspiration from his Muse to that of other artists, this superior, talented speaker deems the others to lack substance. In other poets’ art, the Muse serves simply to correct "style," and even though the Muse’s "grace" may be well represented, it lacks the substance of the accomplished craftsman.

The Couplet: Style and Substance

But thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.

The speaker reveals the difference between mere style and substance. While other artists rely on the Muse for cosmetic purposes, this speaker says, "thou art all my art." This gifted speaker's art represents all aspects of the Muse’s power, and thus his art "do[th] advance / As high as learning my rude ignorance."

As usual, the speaker remains humble, giving credit to higher power, for he, as a poor servant, must always remain in certain "rude ignorance."

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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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