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

Set III, Runes 29-42: Texts and Comments  
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 38
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Rune 37
Ninth lines, Set III (Sonnets 29-42)

                          Rune 37
     (Ninth lines, Set III: Sonnets 29-42)

     Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
     Then can I grieve at grievances foregone—
     Thou, art, the grave where buried love doth live.
 4  Oh, then vouchsafe me but this loving thought
     Ev’n so: My sun one early morn did shine!
     Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief,
     For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense:
 8  I may not evermore acknowledge thee
     So then I am not lame, poor, nor despised.
     Be thou the tenth muse, ten times more in worth,
     Oh, absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove!
12 I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief.
     (Ay me, but yet thou might’st my seat forbear!)
     If I lose thee, my loss is my love’s gain.
      Glosses: 1) Yet = Still; these thoughts = what I’m thinking now as I write—i.e., these verses; 2) foregone = in the past; 4) Q voutsafe = vouchsafe, i.e., “agree to grant”; 8) the line may pun, “I may not ever, More, acknowledge thee,” alluding to Will’s part in the unpublished (probably censored) play about Sir Thomas More;10) self-consciously, tenth and ten occur in line 10, along with further (this time disparaging) wit about the More play; 13) seat = homeplace, soul, punning on “backside.” The line jokes, “You might at least leave my backside alone!” with my seat (like thy sensual fault in 7) a witty metaphor for the Runes, which are bottom-end texts, decorously covered.

     37. My Art, This Grave of Buried Love

     Still almost hating myself in these verse musings,
     let me grieve over those expressions of dissatisfaction already finished in this cycle—
     over you my art, the grave where love is entombed alive.
  4 Oh, then allow me one thought that is not hateful to contemplate
     despite all my losses: I’ve had youth, a young son, even early fame—my day in the sun.
     But, my art, your shameful character brings no relief to my grief
     because my reason sees through your divisive charm. When I introduce logic into this alluring chasm of Sonnets and Runes, I understand that
  8 I can never acknowledge you
     without bringing to light all my “lame feet” and my impoverished, despicable materials.
     Even if you, my grand design, were the modern inspiration for art or were ten times greater than the nine muses,
     Oh, my lost art—emblem of my estrangement—how you would torment me!
12 Gentle thief, I forgive you for taking away what you rob me of.
     (Alas, you might at least leave me a peaceful habitation and not tamper with my mind.)
     Given your flawed, troublesome nature, any loss of you, my art, is in fact my love’s gain,


          A main riddle in Rune 37 is the matter of whom or what the poet is addressing. One way to make sense of the text is to hear the poet speaking to “Thou, art,… (3)—the buried runic text itself, or the Runes as a cycle. Concurrently, the text also embodies the unidentified friend, who by extension is the poet’s “love” (3, 14 ), his “loving thought” (4), and his “muse” (10).

          As elsewhere in Q, the apologetic poet implies that this love poem, and all his art, is vaguely “shameful.” Finding the Runes helps us see a part of his logic, since the Runes are hidden, tortured, imperfect, subversive, and not creations the poet can openly acknowledge. Though the linkage between “thy sensual fault” (7)—suggesting a crevice or crevasse—and “my seat” (13) is comical, overall the rune rings serious and may have in mind two real losses in the poet’s life: his shining Sunne (5, punning on “son”) and his Stratford “seat” (13), the family home he left to pursue his destiny.

          The poem, with many others, supports the deduction that the Runes—as the “grave where buried love doth live” (3)—are on one level a memorial to the dead Hamnet, the poet’s only son, whose death in 1596 at age 11 ended his family name. The letterstrings “I may not” (8) and “…I am not…” (9) house apt plays on “Hamnet.” Puns on Sue (e.g., Q9 So) and John (Q2, fore-gon, an eyepun on “sore John”) offer other rusty keys to family wit about Susanna and Dr. John Hall, the poet’s daughter and son-in-law in whom Will’s hope for family survival rested. John Hall, too, was the poet’s “Sunne” after June 1607, and the phrase “give physic to my grief” (6) gestures toward Hall’s profession, medicine. The letterstrings ge thee (8) and giue thy (12) pun on “Judy” and thus on a diminutive form of “Judith,” Hamnet’s still-living twin.

          In the “twinned” Sonnets/Runes projects, the buried Runes parallel the dead son, while the overt Sonnets emblemize Judith. I also think that as Will prepared the Q texts for publication ca. 1607-1609 he saw them as an epithalamion group celebrating Susanna’s marriage to Hall—so that the Halls are, in one primary sense, the “Master Mistress” of the poet’s love (see Sonnet 20.2).

          The identity of the person or agency addressed here and elsewhere in Q is, of course, ambiguous, and that obfuscation seems to be intentional, a part of the Quarto Game. Often in Q Will seems to banter with his male addressee(s) in erotic terms—a “sensual fault” to which he “brings in sense.” The pun “I may not evermore acknowledge thee, / Southy [Q Sothe ]” (8-9) suggests Southampton, Shakespeare’s only known patron; so does the pun “My Grace.”

          The address may apply equally well to John, Will’s son-in-law, for no one writes love sonnets to men! Whatever the nature of the poet’s love for John, he recognizes that his own “loss is Susanna’s gain” (14). In any case, extravagant puns about back-door sex undergird the poem: e.g., “‘Ope’ scene see, what a torment, wood[y] Shakespeare [st, the family name cipher] thou ‘prow’” (10), and “Thou mightst my seat forbear!” (13). Contemporaries, too, would have heard here,“You might at least leave my ass alone.” Puns in 13-14 amplify and confound the suggestive wit: e.g., “Aim, butt wide (...white) to homage...,” “Aim, bawdy Tommy, just Tommy...,” “effete, sore be Harry S. (...hairy ass),” and “thou madest my seat sore,” and “ seedy ‘fore’ bare I feel, OO, Southy, my love, is my loose game.”  (Tommy, here and elsewhere, is likely to allude to Will’s known printing agent, Thomas Thorpe.)      

          Crafty echoic patterns
occur in greeue, greeuances, graue (2-3), and griefe (6)—the last rhyming with “thief” (12). (Q’s spelling greeuances [2] allows an internal pun on “rune.”) “Thief thoughts” (1), an eyepun, anticipates “robbery” and “gentle thief” (12). Other linked elements vary “despise” (1, 9) and “thoughts” (1, 4). “Foregone” (2) anticipates parallel “for…” forms (7, 12, 13), while “lame” (9) prepares for the eyepun “feet” (13). Throughout Q, the f / “long s” interchange allows puns, contradictions, and bad jokes lost in modern typeforms: Q’s loose, losse, and loues (14), e.g., all encode “love,” thus allowing other meanings in the line. By means of thissame visual interchange, disparate terms overlay each other: e.g., fame and shame; and griefe, grease, and grace (6, code: griese).

           Disconcertingly, Yet (1) can always pun on Wyatt (the English sonneteer, Will’s forerunner), and also on wide, white, and Waite (perhaps a topical allusion.)
           In Q’s numbers game, the “tenth muse” line here is—self-consciously—line 10.

Sample Puns

          1) Yet jaunty is Anne [= et= and], haughty ass; myself, awl (cell) moist does pissing; Wyatt auntie’s thoughts may sell
          2) John [= in], join; fit [i.e., stanza]; Yet eye naughty set (fit) huge, ’tis ms.-leaf (missal, missile); Thin cigarro [Sp.]; “I” great; egret; an egg; ass is our John
           2-3) Rovert Greene see suffer, gone t’ Howard, the grave; sore, John, thou art; W., Harry, buried love (low), doth live; oath low
           3) Thou art Harry W., eerie, buried, lauded alive
           4) Oath, new ode is aye same; out, Sesame; femme beauty; see m’ butt, his low inch taut (th’ “O” jet); lo, John, jet you; avenge
           5) You ’n’ Sue, my son, one early morn did shine; in wan “ear” lie; m’ whore needy divine; Moor night I’d shine                    5-6) early my horn (whoring) did shine in Horsy Anne (whore-scene)
           6) Nor rune [reversed]; Inner [hidden]; see Anne, this Ham give physic to; Ham.[cf. Hamnet]; Jew fey f--ked homme; grave; gravy; sick Tommy, grieve
           7) Fart o’ thy sin fuel Saul t’ bring incense; sin of you, Hall, faulty (salty) be; eye bare engine
           7-8) For tooth, essential salt I bring in a fancy hymen (amen); Semen
           7-9) Simon (Simeon), ought your Moor acknowledge, the sodden “I”?
           8-9) Eye my knot, evermore acknowledge this “O”
           9) Sue; Southy name not lame, poor; whored “I’s” pissed; Sodden [Tearful] Hamnet lay may be our inner deaf-piece; Sudden; I’m not your Moor, ass, no lad jetty; Southy, name Anne
         10) Beth, O you the tenth Muse; Betty; muffed intime; ten times more eye new earth
         10-11) t’ knight (Nate, tonight) I’m ass (S.), moor in warty “O”; Moor I knew, earthy Ahab, fancy
         11) sin sweet: Ate whore men two, old, stop her! O abyss ensued, a torment; man too old, Shakespeare [= st], thou prow; P-Row
         11-12) O, absinthes, what a torment, woods t’ th’ hopper Ovid owes our Jew [sacrilege]
         12) Aye dose her, Judy [Judith], ’er ovary genitalled, heavy; th’ heir abridge, entail thief
         12-13) Gentile thief I may be
         13) Aye, maybe you died, Tommy, ghost; Eeii! m’ beauty Anne [et = and], thou mightst my seat forbear! Betty, thou mite, Shakespeare ms. ate, sorbet; my seat, sore, bare (be hairy); feate feet; my Set IV; ms. 8 [Set VIII?]; “home” aye guessed, my seat; item
         13-14) arras; sorbet [cf. “ice”], aye, raise eye, [eye] lofty Himalayas, mellow skein (scene)
         14) I feel “O” o’ Southy, my love aye seamy; mellow face, mellow ass; I fill “O’s” themey, low; seize my love’s game; my love is my loose, gay Annie; mellow, use gay Annie; skene [knife]

Acrostic Wit

         The downward acrostic codeline—YTT OENF IS BOI A I—suggests, e.g., “White (Wide) enough (a knave) is boy I ‘I’ (eye),” “Yet enough (a knife) is boy ‘I,’ aye,” “Ye, T.T., want office-boy (…wan [tuna] fish boil),” “Ye, T.T., own, fist boy,” “Y’ titty one of ice be. Why?” “Yet tune forte is bois [wood, ‘crazy,’ cf. ‘hautbois’],” “Yet two knaves, boy I eye,” “Wide anus I sate… [B=8],” and “Wyatt-onus aye is a toy.”

         The upward codelineIAIOB S I FNEOT TY—conveys such potential readings as “Job-sigh ( eye, ‘I’) finite weigh,” “Job is aye fini, O,T.T., why?” “Jabs ‘I’ of knight (Nate) t’ ‘Y’ [groin],” “Jabs ‘I’ F., Nate, ‘Y’,” “Jabs eye of night. Why?” “Eye apes, aye finite. Why?” “Eye apse infinite t’ eye,”and “Lay low be sieve knotty.”

         “F., Nate” suggests Nate Field, a BOIAI actor.

Proceed to Rune 38
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