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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 VI, Runes 71-84: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 73
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Rune 72
Second lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 72
     (Second lines, Set VI: Sonnets 71-84)

     Then you shall hear the surly, sullen bell.
     What merit lived in me that you should love?
     When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang
 4  Without, all bail shall carry me away,
     O’er, as sweet seasoned showers are to the ground.
     So far from variation or quick change,
     Thy dial: How thy precious minutes waste,
 8  And found such fair assistance in my verse:
     My verse alone had all thy gentle grace,
     Knowing a better spirit doth use your name.
     Or, you survive when I in earth am rotten,
12 And therefore mayst without attaint o’erlook;
     And therefore to your fair no painting set
     Than this rich praise, that you alone are you.
     Glosses: 4) Without all bail puns, “Outside Old Bailey,” London’s criminal court; 6) So far puns (ironically) on “Suffer”; 7) minutes puns on “brief records, ” a metaphor for Will’s poem; 10) Q vse echoes verse (8, 9) and puns on “whiff” (v.); spirit (with name) is an eyepun on “...speare”; 14) Than (Q Then, echoing 1) generates the paradoxical pun “Thin this rich praise....”

     72. Thy Dial

     At some time later you shall hear my gloomy funeral bell.
     The question is, what merits did I have for you to love?
     In a stark season, the trees leafless—or nearly so—
  4 outside, the Ultimate Custodian shall take me away,
     my life finished as quickly as spring showers run into the earth.
     But steady, with no forward leaps, still go the beats in this metrical
     timepiece that I am busy crafting for you: How the precious passing minutes of your evanescent—perhaps profligate—life
  8 have found the beauty of immortality in my verses. (If I’ve helped waste your time here, at least I’ve done so pleasantly.)
     Only in my verses has your gentle grace been captured,
     for they acknowledge the superior soul that your name is attached to. (Do I mean yours or mine?)
     To take another angle, imagine that you survive after I’m rotten in the earth
12 and that you can then read what’s here without guilt by association, observing no erring strokes in the portrait;
     in that light, let’s add no extra color to your fair features as I portray them here
     except the rich tribute that accrues when I say that you alone are just yourself.


          Read seriously, this lyric on mutability achieves real pathos by balancing the poet’s pride with apologetic, self-effacing modesty. Central figures are “yellow leaves” (3), “all bail” (4), and “Thy dial” (7). The funeral bell (1) calls to mind the “great bell” at St. Savior’s in Southwerk that Will may have had tolled (for a fee) at the death of his brother Edmund on Dec. 31, 1607 (see Marchette Chute’s Shakespeare of London, 239-40). “Without all bayle” (4) suggests “Outside Old Bailey,” London’s criminal court. One sense of “All Bail” may be “Final Custody.”

          Details about time start with “bell” (1) and culminate in the metaphor “thy dial” (7)—a watch or sundial that registers the listener/friend’s “precious minutes” and stands for his steadiness. Even Q’s “shall” (1, 4) puns visually on “fall,” and a later pun, “…you survive… / And therefore Mayest without a tint [i.e., celebrate Maytime, but ‘not colorfully’] …” (11-12), is also “seasonal.” “My verse…had all thy gentle grays” (9) punningly connects the friend’s aging to this same image pattern, with a sarcastic dig built in. Line 3 alludes to fall—and, less soberly, to writing, nuns, and “hanging men.” Lines 1-5 vaguely depict the speaking poet as a hanged criminal who, lacking merit, is “carried away.” Imagery in 5 may suggest spurting blood after a beheading—one form of “variation or quick change” (6) that the listening friend avoids.

           A vivid glimpse into Will’s nighttime workroom seems to emerge from the deeply buried pun “you aye see kitchen jet, hid yellow taper shows my nights’ waste”—encoded as u i c kechan ge?T hyd yallhow thypre tious my nuits waste (Q6-7). (“Jet” paradoxically means both “spurt of light” and “darkness.”) It’s fascinating to imagine “yellow leaves” as pages illuminated by candlelight in an interior setting, the pages on which Will is composing the Q texts. The down/up “hairpin” variant of the emphatic acrostic code allows the correlated reading “2:00 [a.m.] is damn quiet aye. I ache. May 7 ’[t]is, ’08.” (See Acrostic Wit, below.)

           Line 10 is ambiguous partly because “a better spirit…” puns on the “…speare” who “…doth verse thy name.” “Eye-and-ear theme wrotten” (11) is another pun about the Runes. “Yellow leaves” (3), too, can denote old pages or writings, and the pun “none or few do hang / Wit out, a libel false…” (3-4) jokes about the Runes’ hidden “seditions.” Q’s few doe hange (3) is an eyepun on “pseudo hinge”—relevant to this “unreal” book, the Runes.

           Tedious puns on “or/ore/o’er/are” (e.g., in 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 14) disrupt any serious reading of the line-grouping: Q’s form “your faire” (13) puns, e.g., on “Why, ‘or’ is ‘are’!” and “Why, ‘ore’ is ‘airy’ [… ‘hairy’]!” (“Hairy/Harry,” I think, is a routine nickname pun in Q on Will’s patron Henry Wriothesley, the early of Southampton.) Q’s letterstring “…hat you a…” (14) encodes a “Hathaway” pun in combination with “et,” which (again, I deduce) = “and” = Anne. (Other commentators on the Q lines have suggested that “And” may pun on “Anne.” See, e.g., Stephen Booth’s ed. of the Sonnets [Yale, 1977], note to 145.13, p. 501.) Thus one reading of line 14 is, “Th’ end is wry: Cheap heiress, Anne Hathaway [code: e,t hat-you-a], lone heir, you.”

          Wit inheres in Will’s conclusion that the friend “needs no painting”: He is not a corpse, and thus can “without a tinter look [i.e., see, read]” (12) Ambiguous about whether the friend is subtly “colored” or not are the assertions “my verse alone had all thy gentle grays” (9) and “you … /…Mayest without a tint” (12). Still other words and puns that aggrandize the color motif include “sullen” (2), “all thy genital grays” (9), and “ore-look [i.e., gray]” (12). “Genital grays” connects with recurring bawdry in the Runes about “hair o’ersnowed”—adumbrating pubic hair whitened from ejaculation.

           Other puns that amplify meanings and tangle the wit of the text include “Suffer” (So far…, Q6); “minutes” as “brief records,” a metaphor for Will’s poems (7); and Q’s vfe (10) as “whiff” or “verse.” Editors of the Sonnets routinely emend Q’s then (e.g., 14) to “than,” which here denotes “Except.”

Sample Puns

          1) Thin, you S. Hall hurt; Hen., you ass, all hairy, this you really saw; the noose’ll Harry, thief, early ’sue
          1-2) N.B. Elude m’ riddle aye, you Dane
          2) aye temerity lived in me; riddle evade; Ovid, enemy t’ Hat., you should love
          2-3) old, ill Owen, yellow, leaves; Ovid eye in meated ewe-ass, holed—low, anal, lovely ass; Hat., you ass-holed—loving, yell, howl
          3) W.H., anal olives are, in honor, few; W., Hen., ye low-life (loo-lice); sir, know Norse widow
          2-4) W.H., eye temerity, lewd enemy t’ Hat., you ass-hole, yellow lice, or nun, or pseudo—hang…
          3-4) widow Anne, Judy huddle by hell, evil; hang widow, tall bailiff; our nun, our Sue do hang without Old Bailey; few do Anjou eye
          4) see Harry mew aye; Without Hall be ails; …be eisell
          4-5) S.Hall, see a wry Meres sweet; Hall, see a rhyme, ye aware ass, sweet seasoned, a read “O”; rim; red
          5) Our ass Swede is even deaf whore, serrated hedgerow you end; A “read ‘O’,” the G-rune, suffer, sir, o’ my variation; assorted
          6) Suffers Rome variation? in ark you aye see cage
          6-7) see kitchen, jet idol haughty, pray to Jew’s minute ass; O, wreck, you I seek, see hanged high; jetty dye allowed hyper-shows minute, swift
          7) die, Hall haughty, pretty O, you Simonite swift (suave); hid yellow taper shows my nights’ waste
          7-8) thy buried “I” use, minute ass waste and sound, f--k, sir
          8) Anne found such fair assistance in my verse; Anne S., O you end, f--k; ass, hairy ass, is t’ Anne sin, hymn avers; ass, is dancing hymn averse?
          8-9) my verse mirrors a lone adult, high, gentle Grey seek now (in “O”), John
          9) Hymn avers awl wan had all thy genital grace
        10) Knowing gibbet, errs peer; bitter spirit; wife; your Rune A; In “O” inch, a bitter spirit…
        10-11) you Surinam whore use
        11) Arouse your wife, W., Hen., (whinny) in ear [pudendal]; aye in earth, Ham, rot; O, rosary you eye
        11-12) O-ruse you rune: Jonah heard Ham, rotten hand there saw, remiss t’ wit; a mirrored tenant, Harry S., o’er my ass
        12) Anne, Harry’s whore; End, hairy ass, whore, may Shakespeare without attaint o’er-look; Anne did here Forum eye
        12-13) t’ Widow Tate Anne tore, looking dead
        13-14) t’ Hereford, whore is Harry, an “O” pained inches, attend his wry, chipper ass (…jabbers)
        14) Thin this our itchy pee raise t’ Hat., you all want a ru[ne]; error; a row; fetid ewe, awl honor; agile; Hatchell; Lanier; Set VIII you align; you, a limner (liner); Hen, thy series he braveth, a dual honor

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—TWWWOST A M KOAAT—suggests such decodings as these samples: “Tuesday a.m., quiet... (key, ’08; I see ’08),” “Tuesday-hymn caught,” “Toast aye m’ code,” “Two-stem code,” “Toast I make, 08 (await),” Take mate’s 08,” “Twist, I’m caught,” and “‘Twas tame kitty.”  

          The phonics of this codeline also sllow the readings “Twist aye m’ quoit [a ‘round’ of rope used in tossing games, suggesting ‘rown,’ ‘rune’],” “Toast aye m’ God,” “To host I am god […good; …quiet],” and (a favorite reading of mine) “2:00 [A.M.] is damn quiet.”

          The upward (reverse) codeline—TAAOK MATS O WWWT—houses such potential encryptions as these: “Take Mate S., O wight,” “T’ come, 8 sowed (sought),” “Take m’ 8, Southy,” “T’ ache mate sought,” “Take me t’ Swede,” “Take mate, Southy,” “Take me to Southy,” and “Take him aye t’ Southy.”

          The down/up hairpin codeline suggests “Twist aye m’ code…,” “To woe, ass, damn God, take mate, Southy,” “To host a.m., quiet I ache, May ’tis, ’08,” and/or “…May 7 is ’08, ” “May 7 sight.” Thus this hairpin may encode a precise “time of composition” record: e.g., “2:00 is damn quiet aye. I ache. May 7 ’[t]is, ’08.” Many other readings are concurrent, disallowing dogmatic readings. Granting that May 7, 1608, was a Saturday, not a TWWOS-TA, one potentially accurate historical reading is, “Tuesday a.m. Quiet, I ache. May ’tis, ’08.” “...Mate saw wit” and “...Maid saw wit” coexist in the mix.

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