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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 80
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Rune 79
Ninth lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 79

     (Ninth lines, Set VI: Sonnets 71-84)

     O, if, I say, you look upon this verse,
     O, least your true love may seem false in this:
     In me thou seest the glowing of such fire,      
 4  So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life.        
     Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
     O, know, sweet love, I always write of you:
     Look what thy memory cannot contain,
 8  Yet be most proud of that which I compile:
     He lends thee virtue, and he stole that word.
     Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat;     
     Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
12 And do so, love, yet when they have devised
     This. Silence for my sin you did impute;
     Let him but copy what in you is writ.
3) In me puns on “enemy”; 3-4) paradoxical pun: fire sodden; 4) (?) thou reads how in some extant copies of Q; Sonnets editor Stephen Booth (1978), e.g., uses “thou”; the line puns “[t]hou hast but lost t, hid,” alluding to the thou/how confusion in Q; 9) He = That which I compile (see 8); lines 9-10 pun “and he stole t in hoard. Why?”; 12) they = people (pun: th’ eye); devised = seen, divided, sorted out; 13) impute = assign as suitable; 14) him puns on “hymn” and may refer to he (9), monument, and/or verse (11). 

      79. Staying Afloat

     O, I say, when you scrutinize this verse,
     O, your true love will be least likely to seem false:
     For here you see a glowing fire of the sort
  4 that assures you that you have only lost the ashes of what has already burned.
     Sometime when you are savoring your reflection in this mirror,
     O, know, sweet love, that everything here is about you.
     Notice what this memorial cannot record,
  8 yet be very proud of what it does anthologize:
     This text attributes virtue to you that indeed used to be yours.
     Just the least support from you will keep me afloat;
     my gentle verse shall be your memorial
12 and shall still be that, love, even after people unnamed have figured out
     all of this and have detected our friendship. You left me muzzled for the sin of loving you;
     but all that this tribute (or any reader or sleuth) has to do is copy your attributes.  


          This compliment to the muse characterizes the poet’s private act of love, his writing. Some vague lines seem unflattering to the unnamed “you” (1): e,g, line 5 suggests conceit, and 10 hints at “shallowness.” These putdowns are consistent with the usual tone of the Q Game, which indiscriminately aims overlaid compliments and insults at the reader/player—and especially at the “friend,” Will’s customary (but unidentified) primary auditor.

          Typically, much of the wit focuses on the Runegame, on writing itself. “This verse” (1) and “my gentle verse” (11) are core descriptions; appositive terms include “this” (2) and “This” or “This silence” (13). Parallel references occur in “I always write of you” (6); “thy memory” (7); “that which I compile” (8); “He” (9), pointing vaguely to the poet; and “Your monument” (11). The puns “hymn” and “copy what in you (...anew) is writ” (14) are also about writing.

           Established editors have often noted that the tension of “mixed metaphors” is a puzzling and distracting aspect of Q’s overt Sonnets. In the Runes this mix is an active part of the eclectic wit.

           Rune 79, e.g., compares the writer and/or his text to an almost invisible fire (4); to a “feast” that is “sweet” (5-6)—in lines that may apply to the poet; to a paradoxically “lending” word-thief (9); to a swimmer struggling to stay up (10); and to something devious, requiring guile to understand (12-13). As to thievery, the verb phrases “May seem false” (2) and “stole that word” (9) prepare for “my sin” and “impute” (13), while “copy what anew is writ” echoes the idea of “stealing diction.” “Dregs of life” (4) suggests an ashheap as a metaphor for the Q texts, and the marine conceit in 10 redefines the term as “flotsam.” Marine-focused wording also includes “My fin you did impute” (13), a bawdy pun on Will’s “fishiness,” while the puns “all full with sea-sting” (5) and “your monument shell be my…verse” (11) help to anchor such sea figures in the larger flood. Though “gentle verse” (11) is congruent with the picture of silence and a “hymn” (13-14), a “monument” (11) seems unlikely to stay afloat.

           Burning, feasting, swimming, or chiseling, the poet “compiles” his heaps of figures.

           The clustered “O’s” (1, 2, 6) not only create bathos, since “O” is a pictograph for “round” (or “rune”) and bawdily suggests a bodily orifice. The ocular joke “O O, eyes so little” in the acrostic (see below) uses O’s as visual jokes the way Augenmusik once used whole notes. Even the word looke (1) encodes “oo,” pictographic oglers.

           Other bawdry is inherent. Because a root sense in “impute” is “prune,” line 13 jokes about a radical operation carried out on a frontal “fin.” “Come-pile” (8) is a bawdy pun that prepares for “afloat” a little later, the poet asking for only the “shallowest help.” The comic suggestion is of an orgy, a sea of semen. Similarly, “your monument,” “genital verve” (11), and Will’s vague “sin” (13) are broadly suggestive. The poem even closes with body-part wit: “Let him but copy what? Anus red.” Concurrent puns on “hymn” (code him) and on “butt,” “beauty,” and “bawdy” (code but) amplify the joke. The lettercode in line 2 puns, “Oily, a sty, Howard, Raleigh may see m’ evil scene t’ hiss.” Such enigmatic topical nameplays riddle the Q lines.

           Typically, a good bit of wit may be aimed at Thomas Thorpe, known to be the “T.T.” whose initials occur twice in Q’s frontmatter. Thorpe, I propose, would have been intricately involved as collaborator in overseeing the process of printing Q so that the poet’s gamy, jot-and-tittle details did not get lost. Recurrent wit in Q seems to label Thorpe “the Swede”: Lines 6-7, e.g., pun, “O, know Swede, level, wise, wry, ’tis you...!” Letterstring forms that “automatically” encode “Tommy” here and elsewhere include time (5) and thy me... (7), and forms that encode “Thos.” include this (2) and thou s... (3). The string thou hast (4) encodes “Thos. T.” Even that (e.g., 8, 9) encodes “Tha. T.,” a primitive nameplay. One pun in 7 is “Locate Tommy, m’ whore eye (...aye).” Lines 2-3 pun, e.g., “My fee-ms. all see. In this, ‘enemy’ Thos. is T.T.”

           Among the “automatic” family names that occur in Q’s common forms are will, shall, all, So, and And (12), suggesting Will, S[usannah] Hall, Hall, Sue, and Anne. Even the word in (e.g., 2, 3) encodes plays on both John (= IN = Jn.) and Anne. (In 10, shallowest suggests both “Sue Hall o’ [the] West [i.e., ...of Stratford?]” and “S. Hall o’ John [= w = IN] est [= is].”) Line 4 suggests “Susanna Ha… eye, fit but lost” (Q So then thou ha...). Line 12 puns, “Anne, docile O, ye twinned: Heavy Device did hiss....” The play is one of hundreds in Q on Anne’s heaviness. (Anne, of course, was the mother of twins, Hamnet and Judith, whose names also occur in Q forms.) Line 7 puns, “Look, Anne [= w = IN = in] Hath-Y [i.e., Hath’way] may my whore eye. See Anne, naughty County Anne,” with low bawdry of the same sort one hears in Hamlet 3.2.

Sample Puns

          1) O [cf. 2, 6] the round, rune; O eye feces aye: you look upon thy sewer; Circe; Official; you, low, coupon this verse; Lily; capon t’ hiss worse; Oaf, see, I sail, you, lo, Cuba notice; looke the word encodes oo, pictographic oglers [cf. the acrostic, below]
          1-2) on thighs were soil stirred; eye sewer solace, turd; Of Isaiah, Luke (a pun) this were, silly ass; Selahs; Pontius Vere feels
          2) is Tower t’ rule? O, Leicester t’ rule; sturdy rule of May; fall see ends; Raleigh may seem evil scene t’ hiss
          2-3) my fey ms., all sanity’s enemy t’ house; our true love, Massey ms., all see, John teasing, mete Hugh see fit; O [rune] leaf’d, you’re t’ Raleigh maize, a missile, saints’ enemy; May seems aye licentious enemy
          3) Enema thou ceased, aglow in Jesus’ ire
          4) Susanna Ha… [Q So then thou ha…], halved but lost; Southy end thou halved, butt aloft—that rag-soft leaf; head-rag; Titus Tybalt’s tithe dear edges (hedges)
          4-5) eye feast, O meaty, meal full with feasting; Southy in house Tybalt’s tithe dear guesses, laughs
          5) wit ceased, “engine” you recite; why this East Indian? you’re f--ked; Foam-time, awl full, witty, see Shakespeare engine your sigh jet
          5-6) token of wit low Eloise writes you
          6) O, Noah sweet, I always write of you; to Lowell we sue; Onus witty, level; O, know Swede, level, wise, wry, ’tis you; low, vile ways wry tease you; O, no, ass we’d love, I awl waist wry, tease you
          6-7) I’ll weigh sword if you look
          7) Luke, you’d theme moor eye; Loo quiet thy mammaries, Anne, ought contain; Look, W.H., a thigh, mammary, see a node, cunty Anne; Low, quiet time m’ O wry cannot contain; see Anne, notice Auntie Anne
          7-8) Hat-thy-me, m’ whore, eye, see Anne, oat, cunty Anne yet be moist, prowed oft; Hat.-witch, I come, pee ill (pale)
          8) Wyatt (wight, Waite), be most proud of that which I compile; moist pee, rudest thought which I compile; W.H. itches amply; ode o’ fatted (fated) witches, hommes pale
          9) Helen’s the virtue; Hell ends thievery; our twin dies, tolled; hiss, old, the turd
        10) holed; your shallow fit, hell pealed, may be aye flawed
        10-11) willow, old dame you pass, lo, a tower; aye flawed, you Roman ewe mint (…homme end); hold hymn up, aye flawed, your monument, S. Hall
        11) Why, ermine you mend
        11-12) asshole be my gentle Vere, fiend docile; your moan, human ’tis, Hall, B.M. edging tail worsened “O”; S. Hall, beamy, gentle, worse Anne-dose allowed           
        12-13) W.H, endive devised t’ hiss; Eying Dido so loved, windy Ovid whiffed this silent Caesar; Thy ass’s “I” lends form, ye sin, y’ ode eye, dim puta
        13) missing, nude, eye dim puta; This silence for my sinewed item, poot; missing new diadem
        13-14) you did eye hymn puddled, hymn, butt-sop, “phew!” attain; tail item, butt sop, puta new is red
        14) Hell, Anne [et] hymn, butt see, O piety anew is writ (I swear it); I sewer eyed; Latim [for Latin], I but copy what a new ass writ; thyme; anise; anus red

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—O O IS SO LYHYYATL—conventionally uses the reversible letterstring OO as pictographic eyes, breasts, testicles, or what not. Possible letterstring decodings include these: “O O, eyes so little (subtle),” “…eyes so light [soil yet] hell,” “O O, is Sue little?” “Oasis’ll ye idle,” “Oiseau little,” “[None] isolate hell,” “Wise (Why is...) Sue little,” “Eyes soil y’ idol,” “[Phallic] ‘I’s’ soil ye eye, tail,” and “‘I’s’ soil ye eyed, hell.”

          The reverse (upward) codeline—LTAYYHYL O S SIOO—can be decoded, e.g., to mean, “Little ‘O’ [i.e., round or rune; pudendum] is Sue,” “Let aloose 100,” “Let I aloose 100,” “Laddie (Lady) high, low—asses I ogle,” “Little oiseau,” “Hell-ditch [phonic H], low slough,” and “Why is soiled lady yellow-assy, O, O?”

           The down/up hairpin encodes “Oiseau little lady’ll lasso,” “Wise Sue, little Lady High/Low is Sue,” “Wise Sue, little lady yellow is Sue,” “Oiseau, little lady, yell, ‘Oiseau!’ (…lady, l’oiseau),” “O, O, eisell [i.e., vinegar] ye addled aye...,”“Wise Sue, little Lady I love [S=F, conventionally], Sue,” and “Oiseau, little lady (laddie), yell, ‘Oiseau!’”

           A throwaway pun in line 12 of the full text illustrates how the Runes intimate numeric wit that a reader/player gets in the habit of trying to parse: “And, docile ‘O’ [= round/rune], ye twenty have devised.” (Here twenty also suggests that the the runes have multiple, concurrent meanings.) One numeric decoding of the down/up codeline in Rune 79 is “Zeroes—so little. Little zeroes see, zeroes.” The ending “100” is part of the confusing wit. Another reading is “Zeroes—so little. Little zero is 5100 [S = 5].” With S = 5 throughout the codeline, other possibilities emerge.

Proceed to Rune 80
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