Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets: A Restoration of the Runes
by Roy Neil Graves, Professor of English
The University of Tennessee at Martin
 

An Easy Sample Text: Rune 1
First lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14) 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved. Posted 13 May 2003

 
       
Set I (Runes 1-14): Edited Texts, Paraphrases, Comments
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets
Rune 1 Explored as a Gameboard Text


 ***

          William Shakespeare’s Rune 1, as his Runes go, is a fairly easy example of the 154 hidden sonnet-length poems that Shakespeare composed concurrently with the Sonnets—using exactly the same lines that the visible Sonnets do, but linking these lines sequentially in different, systematic permutations.
           This particular poem comprises the first lines in the first fourteen sonnets, arranged in serial order from Sonnet 1 to Sonnet 14.
           At right is a paste-up arrangement of that sequence of fourteen lines, reproduced exactly from the 1609 Quarto text of the Sonnets.      
           Prominently visible at the lower left is the vertical acrostic AVON.
           The edited text, shown below with a few glosses, may help clarify some of the meaning and wit in this authorized composition.
           In truth, only two or three details in the poem are stumbling blocks to a modern reader who’s encountering the text for the first time: First, frame (line 5) can mean “pass constructively” (ME), contrasting with spend (i.e., “pass idly,” waste) in line 4. Second, orient (line 7) can mean “dayspring” or dawn, and the clause when the gracious light can mean “when genteel people alight from (a high) bed.” Thus line 7 in context means, “Lo, when gentlepeople get up at dawn....”
          Like a number of the early Sonnets, this hidden text seems to urge some fair, unnamed friend to stop moping, make love, reproduce, and remember that Will loves him.
          The Runes embed much wit, aimed at some contemporary coterie of readers—and now at us as modern reader/players.
           The first line, for example, suggests that the poet’s poems, his own “fairest creatures,” need to multiply—as indeed they’re still doing here in the newly found Runes. The endword of the second line, “brow,” puns on “B-row” (i.e., Row 2 or line 2). Hours in line 5 looks like “whores” but finds an echo in clock (12). Line 9 puns, “Are you afraid to ‘wet a “widow’s eye”’?”—using a Renaissance term for the pudendum. Thus the line inquires of the fair auditor, “Are you afraid of intercourse?” Line 10 encodes Will’s backhanded criticism of some unnamed male listener: “For shame deny that thou bearest love to Annie!” (That is, “How dare you say you don’t love my wife!”)
           Further, line 11 opens with the pun “A sophist ass, thou faulty one....” And line 14 puns, “Knot [i.e., riddle] from the stars do eye (...from these tars doughy...), my judgment pluck,” starting the “N-row” with N and even effecting an altered typebit, an m that looks like an n. (Thomas Thorpe, the much-noted “T.T.” of the title page and dedication, surely helped Will effect such minimal typographic wit.)
           The closing “Not from...” (14) playfully echoes “From...” in line 1.
           Much other gamy material lurks in this long-hidden string of lines, enticing us to “pluck the poet’s judgment”—trying to pick his brain, and doomed never quite to succeed.
           A beginning reader’s first pleasant job, however, is to confirm for himself or herself that Rune 1 is an authorized poem. The paraphrase that you see here (at right below ) moves the text a bit closer to a modern vernacular but is really redundant for any literate, attentive reader.

***











 Will Shakespeare’s Rune 1
(First lines, Set I: Sonnets 1-14)
as a Paste-up Text



                         Rune 1
      (First lines, Set I: Sonnets 1-14)

     From fairest creatures we desire increase.
     When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
     Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest,
 4  “Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
     Those hours that with gentle work did frame?”
     Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface.
     Lo, in the orient, when the gracious light
 8  Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
     Is it for fear? To wet a widow’s eye?
     For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any!
     As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st
12 When I do count the clock that tells the time.
     O, that you were yourself! But love you are.
     Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck.
__________
     Glosses: 1) increase = improvement, progeny; 3) glass = mirror, drinking glass; 4) spend = pass idly; 5) frame = pass constructively (ME); 7) Lo puns on “Low [in the east]”; orient = dayspring; light = alight (i.e., arise from [a high] bed); 9) Or, “...for fear to wet a widow’s eye [a pudendal pun]?”; 10) any puns on “Annie,” Will’s wife’s name.


     1. Knot from the Stars


     Even from those who are fairest we expect better things—and hope for their progeny.
      When the ravages of forty years attack your face and mind,
     look in your mirror (if not the bottom of your glass) and say to yourself,
 4  “Wasteful loveliness, why do you idle away
     the life you once spent in graciously constructive service?”
     Then don’t let winter’s ragged claw deface you.
     Look: As people with good attitudes toward life are arising at daybreak
 8  ready to listen to the music, why do you mope, downcast and distracted?
     Are you fearful? Trying to making some woman weep? Afraid of lovemaking?
     Shame on you for denying that you love anyone at all!
     However quickly you may waste away, you grow at just that rate
12 at any given point in time—when I’m the one who measures things.
      O, I wish you were more yourself. But really you’re unchanged. You still embody love, and are beloved.
      I don’t divine my findings from the stars.

             
Set I (Runes 1-14): Edited Texts, Paraphrases, Comments
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets
Rune 1 Explored as a Gameboard Text