Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets

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

Set IV, Runes 43-56: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 47
Return to the Index of Set IV
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets

Rune 46
Fourth lines, Set IV (Sonnets 43-56)

                         Rune 46

     (Fourth lines, Set IV: Sonnets 43-56)

     And, darkly bright, are bright-in-dark directed
     From limits far remote, where thou dost stay;
     These present/absent with swift motion slide.
 4  My heart, mine, eye the freedom of that right—
     Or, heart, in love with sighs, himself doth smother
     From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust
     Called to that audit by advised respects.
 8  Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend;
     Till I return of posting is no need
     For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure,
     And you, but one, can every shadow lend
12 For that sweet odor which doth in it live:
     Then unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time,
     Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.
     Glosses: 1) bright-in-dark denotes “eyes”; 4) eye (v.) = may look at; right = “prerogative” or “right margin in the Q text or on the Set IV leaf, an airy open space”; 4-5) heart puns routinely on “art”; 7) ...audit...respects (self-conscious legalese) = “...reckoning by judicious considerations”; 8-10) measured, posting, point, and pleasure ally to create phallic wit; 12) it (ambig.) = seldom pleasure (see 10), posting (9), and/or shadow (11); 13) Then puns on “Thin,” with bawdy innuendo (see sluttish); 14) the pun in might on “mite/midget” suggests a joke about penis size, and such puns as “...sluttish Tommy, / Tom, our hosier [dealing in underwear], penned/pained in his sore, mere midget”(13-14) and “Tomorrow sharpened John his sore, mere mite” might have concurrently appealed to Thomas Thorpe (Will’s printing agent) and Dr. John Hall (the son-in-law, a Stratford physician).

     46. The Obelisk Restored

     Now two points of dim brightness here in the dark are drawn
     a remote distance to gaze back toward where you are,
     shifting here and there rapidly as eyes can, alternately vacant and alert as eyes will be.
  4 My own heart—or art—may sometimes glance longingly at the freedom to come and go—the open space off to the right of my leaf invites such freedom—
     or otherwise, melancholy from love, that heart—or art—might smother himself
     with misguided hands, restricted as he is to precincts entrusted to his responsibility
     where he has been called by judicious considerations to that reckoning he now undergoes.
  8 Thus the measurable distance from your friend—from me—is great;
     until I return there’s no need for letters, certainly no need to mark the route with mileposts,
     to make the prick of infrequent pleasures less sharp,
     but you alone can supply every lineation, shading, and nuance
12 of that sweet insinuation that is alive in such a mitigating happiness:
     When I do return, an overgrown stone marker—like an obelisk smeared with the mire of whorish time, a single monument to the whole of my circular progress—
     will have been restored by the future to its former grandeur.


          In this notable text, Will contemplates his friend—or any other reader—who may sweep away the muck from the friend’s “monument.” Both the “fine point of seldom pleasure” that can be “blunted” (10) and the obliterated “stone” that can be “sharpened” (14) are variants of a main idea; the word “posting” links these phrases to others about measurement and distance: e.g., “directed,” “limits far remote,” and “Thus far the miles are measured.” This linked cluster of terms helps create figurative unity, as if what the poet “sees” is some distant, obelisk-like monument—a postlike mile-marker or landmark along some road.

           The rune, which starts with a concern for “eyes” and puns later on “aduis’d,” appeals not only to “vision” but also to hearing, smell, and the tactile sense. In one sense the poem is about imaginative sight and farsightedness, including a vision of a future that uncovers the poet’s own “sharpness.” If Will is thinking at first not of his own eyes but of ours, the eyes of future discerning readers, then he becomes “thy friend” (8), at a real remote distance in time, figuratively a “suicide” (see 5-6) buried in the Runes. The fact that the reader’s eyes are “called to [an] audit by advised respects” seems playfully to refer to Will’s funeral, and the closing figures take on associations with a decaying corpse and with cemeteries in general. “Sweet odor” (12) is thus ironic, echoing the odd typeform “Fvom... [i.e., Fume]” in 6. And “Till I return” (9) is a tiny sacrilege that compares Will to Christ.

           Phallic implications are insistent in “posting” (9), “sweet odor” (12), and the phrases about sharp and blunt points (10, 13-14). As usual, “eyes” as orb-shaped parts are suggestive, especially in the phrase “present/absent with swift motion slide.” “Hands of falsehood,” suggesting a liar in a swearing-in posture in court, is bawdy, as is the notion of “measurement” (8).
Differently, puns on harbor, jetty, ark, and “di-rected” (1) and the pun “posting [‘measuring water depth’] is Noah-need” (9) point to the analogy between the biblical Ark and Q as a “two-by-two” storage medium.

           Because—as critics of the Sonnets have already noted—“And” (1, 11) suggests “Anne,” Will’s wife, at home in Stratford, a phallic joke lurks in the directive, “Till I return, of ‘posting’ is no need” (9). Opening with “And,” the whole poem can in fact be read as an address to Anne or a derogatory comment on her. Further, bright in 1 pun on “buried,” and bright in, on “Britain.” Among many possibilities, then, is an allusive put-down joke about Anne as a national liberator of England: e.g., “Anne d’Arc, liberate our Britain, dark, duressed / from limits far remote...” (1-2).

           The pun “Forty, m’ ills are measured” (8) may joke about the fact that Will ca. 1604-09 is in his forties and has reached the 40-odd numbers in his cycle. (The numeric play on “Shake-spear” in Psalm 46 in the 1611 King James Bible comes to mind: there, perhaps, some KJB translator encoded Will’s name as a witty name/age tribute.)

           Though “Advised respects” (7) is empty jargon, the pun “Odd, viz’d re. specks” means “unusual, specifically in regard to blots.” The aberrational three “e’s” in freeedome (Q4) may be one referent, but the wide spectrum of printed blots and bobbles in Q is equally relevant.

           A part of the Runegame
is its capacity to generate allusions that the player may pick up on or seek out. Will, given his genius, is likely to have been aware of these and to have coaxed them into being. Sublineal puns in the lines of Rune 46 are typically fluent—with such inherent lettercode plays as these: “Hilliard, your ‘N. of Pose’” and “T[o] Hilliard, you’re a knave, posed in guise known...” (9), linked with “wee Tudor” (12)—perhaps alluding to Nicholas Hilliard, the famed miniaturist; “fey Dowland” along with “lute” and “his tone be F” (11, 12-13, 14), suggesting John Dowland, the era’s most famous composer; and “a foreign dew, Bay o’ Tonkin, arisèd on land”(10-11).

           Lewder puns include “Fore, blond [blunt, ballooned] inch, the fine point of seat [seed] o’ my pleasure” (10) and “Dowland f*rted sweet odor, wedged aught in it, lute hence wept, off-tone” (11-13). Q’s besmeer’d puns “be ass-merd(y)” and “beast/Bess-merd.” The pun “ass” = S. = Shakespeare recurs in Q. “Merd” (from Fr. merde) meant “dung” in English by 1477.

           Puns on “Tommy” and “Tom”—with Thorpe as Will’s likely subject and target—occur as time and Tom in 13-14, where might puns on “my jet” and “midget.” One pun in 14, then, is “Tom, our rows are penned, aye nice [= rare, trivial, etc.]: form, rhyme I jet.” Phallic humor lies in the pun “Tommy, / Tom, o’er our ‘O’ [= round, rune, sexually suggestive] sharpened inches 4, mere midget.”

Sample Puns

          1) Anne, darkly bright, our Britain dark directed (dire acted); Anne, darkly buried, airy; get erect, Ed.; library jetter be writing; bridged harbor eye, jetty, in dark
          1-2) in dark, directed from hell, Ham’et’s sourer, moody, weird; defer homily, Mighty Sufferer…
          2) Fair homme, Limey, t’ suffer; From hell, amid safara [Arab.] moody, weird, how dusty
          2-3) ’tis our remote W., Harry (tee!), thou dost study; dusty Thief; W., Harry—th’ odious tough—tied Hesperus in type; m’ O-Tower thou dost steady heavy, prevent abyss, end witty
          3) The sea, a pier’s end ape sent (a piercing ape-scent) with swift motion sly
          3-4) witty, swift, m’ oceans lie dimmer (demure); Tommy neighed his airy dome
          4) Q freeedome the e’s show imitative form; Murder m’ Annie, this read, homme, oft, at right [on the leaf]; Merd
          4-5) m’ Annie this read—O, me, oft Hat. writ her art in loo, with figs; writer, harden; O, misty Hat., rigid or hard in love; o’ stater [Roman coin] I get ore
          5) Wit H. f--ks himself, doth his mother?
          6) Of Roman Dis awful, feed John sewer words; F-row, my hand’s awful (offal) [in the 6th or “F” row]; Fair homme, hands of S. Hall seedy insure wards; falsehood in furry wards of th’ roost
          6-7) you scalded Hat.-oddity by A.D. 6, satire of peace ’tis
          7-8) See old tot, Hat. oddity, bitty wife, dress pissèd, huss sour
          8) Hussar, th’ mildest army; Th’ huss farty, m’ lass, Our Miss; Thus farty m’ lass, our measure deaf; farty m’ leisure (“leafure”); suffered, my leisure measure deformed his rune (heifer-end; High Friend)
          8-9) Rome this rune did ill
          9) T’ hill-yard you run; T’ Hilliard, your “N. of Pose” [the miniaturist?), 2 inches known (anon); Till, “I” red, your niece posting, eye “snow” and heat; Noe (cf. “ark” [1])
        10) Fore blunt-inched, he fine-points seldom pee-leisure
        10-11) map-leaf you rend; Fore, blunt “I” negates Annie, point’s felt, homme-pleasure endure; And you, Bay o’ Tonkin, arise (a wry shadowland); End, ewe-butt wan (etc.), see Anne, you raise a dowel-end
        11-12) wry shade Dowland farted sweet ode o’ rich doting, eyed lute anew, nice, wept, his tone be F [forte]
        12) Farted sweet (...sweaty; ...Swede) odor, witch doth eye knight-loo; Farted ass, wee Tudor which doth in it live
        13) wights lewd eye shitty me; Thin you in Sue apt stone be; honey bee; lotus; beef-merd
        13-14) you T.T., half Tommy, Tom, our rows (errors) harpooned aye; slutty, shitty meat; Eros, harp needing, hisses
        14) eye Nice off our mer, my jetty; Two M/O rows (Too, m’ “O” rows) are penned (hairpinned); eye nice form, hermit. [Row O is hypothetical—a 15th. But cf. Sonnet 99.15.]

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—AFT M O FC TT FA F TT—suggests, e.g., “A fit hymn of City, fay of T.T. (fey fit),” “Aft (Aye fit), m’ ‘O’ f--ked T.T., fey, fit,” “I fit m’ office, tough, hefty,” “A fit homme of City seize [F=S], T.T.,” “A fit muff citifies [F=S] T.T.,” “Assed [Aft] muff sits aft [assed],” and “Aft muff seed soft.” The suggestive puns AFT and FCTT are insistent. With F=S (because lower-case f and “long s” merge visually) the code yields other “low” wit,” along with such circumspect readings as “Aft mosque, T.T. fasts” and “A fit hymn offsets a fit.” (A “fit” may be a stanza of verse.)

          The upward acrosticTT FAF TTC FOMT FA—may be read, e.g., “T.T., five titties foamed (vomit) fey,” “Titties [F=S] eye of T.T., see vomit fey,” “T.T. fasts, so empty…,” and “…5 teases saw.…”

          With its two TT’s, a mini-palindrome, the codeline seems likely to encode routine wit aimed at the “T.T.” of Q’s title page, Will’s known printing agent Thomas Thorpe. (I deduce that Thorpe must have been an essential collaborator in seeing Will’s hand-scripted details into print, jot-and-tittle, when Q was published.) Such acrostic plays link with other humor in the textual lines aimed at Thorpe. (See comments above.)

Proceed to Rune 47
Return to the Index of Set IV
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets