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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 V, Runes 57-70: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 61
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Rune 60
Fourth lines, Set V (Sonnets 57-70)

                         Rune 60
     (Fourth lines, Set V: Sonnets 57-70)

     Nor services to do till you require,
     Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure,
     The second burthen of a former child
 4  In sequent toil, all forwards do contend,
     While shadows like to thee do mock my sight,
     It is so grounded inward in my heart
     With lines and wrinkles. When his youthful morn,
8  And brass (eternal slave to mortal rage
     Whose action is no stronger than a flower)
     And purest faith (unhappily forsworn
     And lace itself), with his society,
12 O’er, durst inhabit on a living brow
     Utt’ring bare truth—even so as foes commend—
     A Crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air.
     Glosses: 1) Nor = Having no... (pun: “Inner,” hidden); re-quire is a printing pun suggesting “regroup pages” (with “quire” as a measure of paper); “re-choir” puns “sing again,” amplifying “services”; 2) bound and “leafure” are printing puns; 3) burthen = burden (musical), the lower line or continuo; second puns on “fecund” (thus the pun “fecund lower song-text”); 4) forwards puns on “prefatory compositions”; 7) wrinkles puns on tricks, wiles; his = my heart’s (’s); 8) brass puns on effrontery (OED 1642); 10) forsworn = repudiated; 11) lace = fragility, entrapment; his = my heart’s (see 6); 12) durst = dared, ventured to; 14) Crow alludes plausibly to Robert Greene’s notorious attack on Will as an “Upstart Crow.”

     60. Commend a Crow

     Having no services to perform until you ask for them (or until the new pages of my work are gathered),
     being your slave, bound to await your pleasure and serve you in your pastimes
     like an adult burdened with childish responsibilities
  4 in a sequence of chores—in such a situation, all of these texts (each one presumptuous, each prefacing those that follow) vie for attention (I struggle with them even as you will)
     while images of you (as I try to envision you) mock my eye,
     since your image is so rooted, so deeply engraved in my heart (and since my vision is an internal one),
     all lines and wrinkles. When finally this prefatory stage in the history of my heart and art;
  8 and “timeless” brass; and effrontery (perpetually controlled by human anger
     of a sort whose actions are no more effectual than those of flowers);
     and purest faith (repudiated in disillusionment,
     as fragile as lace itself); and my own heart’s company—
12 when finally all of these are past and gone, there still has dared to perch on a living brow
     and utter stark truth—in a way that even enemies approve of—
     an “upstart crow” that flies in the sweetest air of heaven.


           As is well known, playwright Robert Greene used the derogatory epithet “Upstart Crow” in 1592 to characterize Will, then an up-and-coming actor and author. Lines 12-14 in this knotty text of Will’s, Rune 60, seem almost certainly to pick up on Greene’s phrase and toy with it.

           The text itself, as usual a challenging game, finds a reader searching for verbs to hang clauses on and struggling with other syntactic and lexical ambiguities. Typically, numerous meanings inher in the text . Perhaps lines 5-11—roughly the middle ones—are digressive. “Contend” (4), a pun on “continued,” labels our struggle, and “durst” (12)—the past participle of “dare,” meaning “challenged”—repeats the concept.

            Though the conceits of 1-4 and 12-14 seem unrelated, the “vassal” of the poem’s “forward” (or preface) is congruent with the image of a trained fighting bird. Line 3, punning “the second [punning on ‘fecund’] birdhen of a former child,” implies that the friend with such a pet is childish. (“Second” alludes to dueling. The auditor’s first fighter is likely a falcon, not a crow.) The pun “Ordure’s [tin...] t’ habit on a living brow” (12) may joke about bird droppings on a knight’s visor, and other “combat” figures and puns dot the poem—e.g., “foes,” “mock my fight,” “foe grounded,” “in-warred,” “brass,” “mortal rage,” “action,” “stronger,” and “force-worn.”

            “Second burden”—roughly, “double bass”—is also a musical kenning for the deep-set Runes. Terms that echo “burden” include “grounded” (because “ground” means the low bass line). “Lines and wrinkles” suggest a parchment sheet and musical squiggles. The closing phrase, “heaven’s sweetest air,” pursues the musical motif, as do “[religious] services to do” and “re-choir” (1). “Re-quire” (1), “bound,” and “leafure” (2) suggest books, maybe music books. And “Sequent toil, all forwards” (4) suggests a church procession. Other related details include “do music” (pun, 5); “youthful mourn” (7), like an altar-boy’s whining voice; “brays eternal” (8); “nosed wrong, or, the nasal air” (9); “Commend” (13), which suggests “to praise or grace” and, as Commendum, alludes to clerical tenure; and, e.g., “G-row” (6), “B-row” (12), and “C-row” (14), which name sequential lines in Will’s lyric.

            The “rage” and “faith” that the poet’s “heart/art” enslaves (5-11) epitomize Will’s two main clusters of decorative figures in this poem: “combat” and church singing.

            The phrase “Commend/ A Crow,” emphatically capitalized in Q (13-14), encourages us or any reader to “praise Will,” a raucous singer, while “co-mend a Zero” may mean “reconstitute a round [or rune].” “Crow” jokes about raucous cacophony, while “Zero” suggests mystery and nothingness. Will’s “sight” is “grounded inward…/ With lines and wrinkles” (6-7) partly because he is preoccupied with runic composition. A joke about “W”—poet, patron, or both—lodges in “W., whose affection is no stronger than ‘Ass lower [a slur]!’” (9). Some other low wit is of the sort that delicate readers may want to ignore: “Fec-uent/fecund toil” (3) suggests bathroom grunting, line 4 depicts the posture of defecation, and “awl forwards” sketches an erect penis. (Students of Shakespeare know that his previously discussed wit was often indelicate.)

            An opening pun on “Norse ruses” (code Nor seruices...) may be consciously encoded wit, since it suggests “primitive tricks” with origins in early English history. Incipient puns on “Pharisees” (code feruices) and Yorick (code: you req...) also hide in line 1.

Sample Puns

           1) Inner is her vice, studied, ill your query; Rune [reversed]; Norse ruses; Nor fear you, eyes, to dawdle; I cease to dawdle; re-quire [i.e., re-group pages‚ reassemble runes]; queer
            1-2) Quire B; you wreck your being; tell Yorick you eye Arabian Jew or vassal bound Tuesday
            2) injure vessel bound to sty
            2-3) bound to stair, leave, you’re thief; Be “inch” your vassal; Bound to fit [i.e., stanza], eye your “leafure” [i.e., pages], the fecund burden [i.e., “bass” parts, message]
            3) This cunt burdens a former child; the fecund birth, a novice or mere child; Bert (Bard), he knows of our mercy; buried enough, a former child [suggesting Hamnet]; This son-to-be earthy knows a sore; enough eyesore, Mersey isled
            3-4) High, let John [In] see cunt oily, awl-sore, warty, sad “O”, cunt-end
            4) fecund; John, f--k you; deux content [suggesting “double subject matter”]
            5) W.H., ill shade (I’ll shit), O is licked toothy; Edom, O, seek; the Duomo seek
            5-6) seek message, Titus (Sue groaned); to th’ Doom, O, seek ms. I jet—It is “O,” grounded inward in my art 6 ground [musical]; John, John, hard John; enemy art; rune dead, in wording mired; wart; warden
            6-7) enema-art (hard, heard) witty; hear title innocent, wry (uncles), and see lesson high
            7) in a sand torrential, swoon; south; solemn horn
            7-8) fool, mourn aye in débris Saturnal 8 et [eaten] urn awls love; Anne brays, eternal ass; salve to m’ whored awl, rag…
            8-9) Hall, slay, veto my whore, tell her a Jew who f--ked shuns no ass; a Jew affection is Noster injured; Anne brays of eternal flow to moor tall urges
            9) W.H., owe [admit to] sea-actions no stronger than a flow-er; eyes, know Shakespeare [= st] rune; eye snuff t’ wrong her; curtains lower
            9-10) eye snow, veteran, Jordan’s lower and pure
          10) Anne, dip your eyes t’ Satan
          10-11) eye th’ Napoli force, warring Andelusia, ’tis hell, feuds
          11) lays; Anne delays aye t’ sail; folk, I die
          11-12) with his f--k, I tire; with his folk, eye Tyre
          12) Ordure fit, inhabiting a loo; ape eye, tunneling burrow [with the line about birdshit on a head]
          12-13) bitten elephant jab rowdy
          13) Veteran gabber true t’ you ensues; Sue S. foes command; see omen D; events waste foes; oases see
          13-14) if oasis, see Oman, Dhaka, routed sly, eastern
          14) A C-row (zero = round) that’s lies; John winces, sweetest ire; In heaven’s feud, Shakespeare higher (hire, err, ire); air [musical]; I knew a nice Swede of Tyre; eye sinew; a crowded ass licenses sweetest Harry; Elysian asses, wee, testier

Acrostic Wit

           The downward (and visibly emphatic) acrostic codeline—NB TIW IW AWAA OVA—suggests, e.g., “N.B. [i.e., Nota Bene, Notice]: To you [Jew], a way over,” “N.B. to eye, Wife A[nne?],” “N.B. to Jove aye,” “End, bitty cry [WIWAWAA], over,” “End, Betty-cry, over,” “N.B. to Woe, Away! Over!” and “N.B. to you [Jew], Away, [Away]!” Other readings include “In bitty wave aye,” “N.B. to Wife A[nne],” “Nate [B=8] to woo I waive aye,” and “Innate to you, a way o’ Virginia.”

           With B = phonic “8,” the codeline may play on “Knight...,” “Night...,” and “Nate...”—the last possibly a young man in Will’s acting troupe. Plays on “neb,” “wife” and “ova” (eggs) and an imitative pun on “wave” (as WIWAWAAOV) are also possible.

           The upward codelineAVOAAW A WI WIT BN—suggests these possibilities: “Avow aye we [William] wit[ty] been,” “Avow a witty bin [storage place, i.e., this rune],” “Avow aye why wit been,” “Avow I why we tighten [B=8],” and “Avow a wee-wee Titan [B=8].” “Avow I Wyatt been” may ally Will with another popular English sonneteer.

Proceed to Rune 61
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