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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 I, Runes 1-14: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 9
Return to the Index of Set I

Rune 8:
Eighth lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14)

                          Rune 8

     Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel,
     Were an all-eating shame—and thriftless praise
     Of his self-love to stop posterity,
 4  So great a sum of sums. Yet canst not live
     Beauty o’ersnowed and bareness everywhere;
      O’er, ten times happier be it ten for one
     Attending on his golden pilgrimage.
 8  In singleness, the parts that thou shouldst bear:
     By children’s eyes, her husband’s shape in mind—
     Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
     And threescore year would make the world away,
12 Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
     When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear:
     By oft predict that I in heaven find.
3, 7) His refers to the listener’s “self” (see 1); 6) O’er (Q Or) suggests “[life] completed”; 9) Her implies “a widow’s”; 10) repair = fix, resort to; 13) bear puns on “bare,” i.e., “reveal”; 14) Oft predict may mean “frequent forecasting.”

     8. His Golden Pilgrimage: An Argument from Numbers

     For your sweet self to work cruelly against itself
     would be a totally wasteful shame; you would be singing an impractical anthem
     to your selfish egotism if you ended a lineage
  4 that might extend infinitely. As things stand now, life and beauty won’t go on
     if beauty stands in splendid isolation—a distant, snowcapped peak on a barren plane.
     In the end, it would be ten times better if ten rather than just one
     swelled the ranks of your sunset pilgrimage
  8 Single life offers you all the parts you need to reproduce:
     A child’s eyes (just for example) recreate a husband’s form in a widow’s mind—
     and all this business of mating and tending to your duty should be your main ambition.
     Then, when sixty years of living might put the world behind you,
12 carried on the bier—with your beard white and bristly—
     your sweet form could suitably be borne by your darling children, whose faces would still reveal your own.
      I find this scene often foretold as I read the stars.


          Again the poet addresses the childless muse, here clearly male, and—as elsewhere in Set I—makes the case for procreation.

           Two processions, a life in motion and a funeral train, dominate the imagery. In his progress through life, the self-attended friend could increase his entourage by siring offspring (8-10) who would also swell his death procession (11-13). The snow-peaked mountain (5) that vaguely paints both a setting and lofty destination also symbolizes the friend in his old age and death (5, 12). “So great a sum of sums” (4) suggests the muse’s “loftiness.” “Golden” (7) describes his sunstrewn path while he is still at his peak—and contrasts with “o’ersnowed” (5). Similarly, cruell in 1—which denotes “curly” and implies youthful locks—foils “white and bristly beard” (12).

           The numerous details that sketch out this “pilgrimage” (7) include “stop” (3); “Attending on” (7); “repair” (10, as “turn back”); the pun “make the world a way” (11); “find” (14); and various plays on “bear” (5, 8, 12, 13). The image of a litter-borne personage in a retinue gets comically reinforced in the deep pun “see heaved Sire” (in chiefe desire, Q10). Other terms and puns imply music, processional songs or hymns of tribute: e.g., “praise” (2); “low to stop” (3); “dinned be air” (5); “happier beat” (6); and “the parts that thou shouldst bear” (8). (To “carry the burden” in music is to “sing the bass.”) More “strained” musical puns include “hearse band’s fey paean, m’ end” (9); “hold beat, high C” (10); and “sweet F” (13).

           Congruent with this “musical” focus is a numeric motif: e.g., “thriftless” (2); “…sum of sums” (4); “ten times” and “ten for one” (6), with a hidden sense that the ten syllables per line “unite in procession.” Other numeric details include “singleness” and “parts” (8); the pun “re-pair” (10), which routinely puns in Q on patching together the Runes; “threescore” (11); and the buried metaphor of an “issued” coin embossed with the friend’s “form” (13—see “golden” [7]). Too, each of four B’s in the vertical capital-letter acrostic (which opens with TWO. . .) puns visually on 8, the rune number. One decoding of this “numeric” acrostic, with B = phonic 8, is this: “To sight zero [i.e., ‘see nothing], ape, wait, wait” (Code: TWO S8 O AIB WA8 W8).

           Bawdy humor includes jokes about hair “o’ersnowed” with ejaculate (5, 12) and about oral sex (e.g., “awl-eating shame” [2]). Other wit suggests self-abuse (1, 3, 12); body parts (8-10) needing “assemblage”; phallic size (4, 7); phallic “I’s” (9, 14); “knots” (4); seminal “issue,” and “sweaty sewers, witty forms” (13).

           Other puns include, e.g., “th’ race car ye are would make thee whirled away!” and “Anne, threescore year, would make [i.e., mate] thee. . .” (11). The pun “et [= and = Anne] Hurled-away” varies Anne’s name. “World” suggests The Globe. “Repair” (10) reiterates “mend” (pun, 9).

           As a personal lament, the rune may show the poet contemplating his own “singleness,” his theatrical “parts,” his neglect of parental duty (8), the way his children must see him as “her husband” and a “shape in mind” (9). He thinks of how he ought to go home and make reparations (10), pass a peaceful old age (11-12) and perhaps watch his grandchildren (13)—and of how he plans to, someday (14). “Sweet issue” (13) applies both to the poet’s writings and his children, while “beard” (12) puns on Bard.

Sample Puns

           1) Thistle see, this “O-8” [i.e., Rune 8] ode is witty; cell see, too cruel
           1-2) Cruel were Anne, awl-eating
           2) We rune; Were Anne a laddie, inches amended her “I-less” praise; famine; Hamnet there I fit (set, fed); amend th’ wry fit [stanza], laugh, peers
           3) cf. “playing a pipe” (phallic); oft heard, “Why?”
           4) Sue greet, a sum of sums; wide (= yet) see Anne Shakespeare, not loo
           5) Bawdy whores; an ass, you roar
           5-6) you, Harry, are ten times happier beaten, sore, wan
           6-8) sore one, attending [Dr.] John, his golden pill grim again essential in ass, th’ part Southy, T.T. house, holed is it, bare
           8-9) John single, an ass, departs t’ Hathaway’s hall, dusty, bare; [body] parts…thou should’st bare; thou, S. Hall Shakespeare [= st] be eerie (…here)
           9) Bitch, I let her in; Bitch ill I’d rune; eyes cf. phallic “I’s”
           9-10) Caesar, you ass (use), be Anne’s fop, enemy, night witch
         10) Witch tore peer, foaled Betty; Witch, to rip air, fooled Bede; S. Hall, Betty see
         10-11) be this heavy desire, Anne, threescore year, wood [crazy] make, t’ you “Hurled-away”
         11) Anne, threescore-year-old make [mate],… [Hath]away
         11-12) t’ you, Earl, “dewy” be “horn”
         12) Born; Bare, rude-hued Anne, debris [i]s t’ Libbie art
         12-13) witty Anne, bristly Bard, When your sweet issue your sweet form S. Hall bear
         13) W., Hen, your feud (foot, foot) is azure, sweet, sore mess, holed, bare
         14) that “I” (phallic) in heaven sinned; biased “pre-dick,” that “I” in you, an ass, end

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—TWO S BOA I B WA B WB—suggests, e.g., “Twist, boa, I be webby web,” “Two-ass boa I ate. Why? A baby,” “Two-ass baby, wipe, wipe,” “Two-ass baby weigh, bewipe,” “Toss baby, baby, baby [generated from overlaid codestrings],” “Two sob, wipe, wipe, wipe,” and “Two-ass boy (beau) I eye, boy bewipe (baby whip).”

          Potential readings of the upward codeline—BW BAW BIAO B SOWT—include, e.g., “By W. Boy Boy be sought,” “Be W.-bow [phallic?] boy-besought,” “…boy be sot,” “Baby I wipe, I owe [acknowledge] Bess-ode,” “Boy, boy, boy be sowed (sought),” and “Be W. boy by ape besought.” Also: For “boy,” substitute “boa” (ME, from L.).

           The rune’s capacity to reiterate “baby,” “boy,” “boa,” and web / wipe / whip by TWOS (and threes, in overlaid forms) is a main witty feature. Capital Bs play routinely on 8s, with phallic suggestiveness. The suggestion of the surname Boys may be a topical allusion.

           The commentary above discusses some other numeric potentialities in the acrostic letterstring.

Proceed to Rune 9
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