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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 III, Runes 29-42: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 41
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Rune 40
Twelfth lines, Set III (Sonnets 29-42)

                        Rune 40
     (Twelfth lines, Set III: Sonnets 29-42)

     From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate
     Which I new pay as if not paid before:
      That due of many now is thine alone.
 4  (To march in ranks of better equipáge,
     The region cloud hath masked him from me now.)
     To him that bears the strong offense’s loss,
      Such civil war is in my love and hate,
 8  Unless thou take that honor! From thy name,
     And by a part of all thy glory, live,
     Eternal numbers to outlive, long date
     Which time (and thoughts so sweetly) dost deceive.
12 To bear love’s wrong, then hate’s known injury
      Where thou art forced to, break a twofold truth
     And both, for my sake, lay on me—this cross.
      Glosses: 1-2) Which is the subject of sings; 2) the line may mean “That which I offer anew (i.e., my praise, my voice)”; 5) him may mean the auditor of 3, punning on “Ham, Hamnet,” Will’s son; 6) him = the poet, with puns on tome, tomb, “to Hamnet” (code To him t...), etc.; 8) that honor = eternal life, the hymns of tribute here; 10) eternal numbers = poems, eons; 11) time puns on “meter,” echoing numbers (i.e., metrics) in 10.

      40. A Twofold Truth, This Cross

     Rising from this gloomy, imperfect earth (as though from the grave) to heaven’s gate, hymns
     sung by these new verses arise as if they were my first tribute.
     You now have unique praise that many owe you. Death, a common fate, is singularly yours.
  4 (Joining the retinue of the heavenly army,
     my friend—or my dead son—disappears from sight now behind a cloud in that vicinity.)
     I who suffer loss at your bold advance—here the loss looks like a cosmic affront—feel
     the way love and hate struggle, as if in civil war;
the only remedy is for you to accept both eternal life and my tribute. In your own name
     and relying on some portion of your own worthiness, go on living
     longer than immortal poetry, longer than endless years in sequence, an eternity
     for you to be beguiled by these rhythms. (Sanguine temporal views fail to fathom eternity.)
12 The insults of these loving verses prepare you for hateful attacks
     wherever you meet them—maybe even in heaven. So unlock these poems, untangle sonnets and runes and decipher them so they reveal their meanings,
     attributing the burden of both—with their overlaid “cross-arms” and all their acrostic elements—solely to me, as I ask.


          Using feudal and military diction, Will represents himself as suffering, suppliant, and earthbound (though Christlike), while the beloved auditor—here, perhaps, the dead son, Hamnet—is among the heavenly “ranks” (4), idealized and eternal but also “dead,” forced into heaven before his time. Except in the third-person aside (4-5), the poet seems to address the friend in a humble tribute (2-3) likened to “hymns” (1ff.). As a kind of crusading Christian knight, the friend is due homage (1-3); is off to battle, “forced” by honor (4, 8, 13); and is soon in heaven, where the “region cloud” is like dust obscuring a phalanx (5). A “strong offense” and perhaps a military “loss” (6) has occurred.

          Other details reinforce the military conceit: “Sullen” (1) has heraldic overtones; “region” suggests a battle locale; “masked” implies a visored knight (5); and “pay” (2), “due” (3), and “take that honor” (8) imply serflike service. Q’s so (11) puns visually on “foe”; “heaven’s gate” (1) suggests an ironic siege; and “eternal numbers” (10) puns on “heavenly host.” Other puns include “Lay on!” (14), a combative directive; “th’ air-guns loud” (5); “Ares [Mars] the Strong often sees loss” (6); and “...I kill enemy” (14).

          In these “hymns,” Will cultivates musical puns such as “ranks” (4, suggesting an organ—a sexual pun amplified by “equipage”); “a tune’s gait (gaiety)” (1); “march” (4) as “martial song”; “bear(s)” (6, 12); “part” (9); “numbers” (10); and “lay” (14).

         “Ranks” (4) also denotes the lined-up textual “rows,” verses that finally are Will’s “cross” to bear (14) because structurally Q has two overlaid “wood” (an antique pun on “insane”) members, parallels to love and hate (see 12).

         The poem broaches witty sacrilege because Will finally seems Christlike while the friend may parallel God the Father “laying” the cross—that torturous rack—on his Son. Wit about the “crossed” (cf. “acrostic”) elements of Sonnets and Runes occurs in “Two (i.e., sonnets and runes) march in ranks” (4) and “both forms ache” (14), suggesting “sonnets and runes are both hard.” This cross (14) suggests “this burden, this hybrid genre, this acrostic game, this mix of love and hate (see 12).” “This cross” also puns “Th’ ‘S.’ series,” a name for the Q cycle.

          Showing Will’s preoccupation with his dead son, Hamnet Shakespeare, is Q’s string himns at (1), a pun on “Ham. S.” and an anagram for “Hamnit S.” that allows the play “From sullen earth sings Hamnet S., heaven’s gaiety (...god, guide)” (1). The boy has gone “To march in ranks of better equipage”—the sexual pun stressing adult maleness.

          In a more straightforward way, the first lines embed the fatherly lament, “From sullen earth sings Hamn. S. at Heaven’s gate, / Which I new pay [bay] as if [assize] not paid [bayed] before.”

          Aimed, perhaps, at Dr. John Hall, Susanna’s husband and Will’s son-in-law after June 1607, is the play “Th’ heir [pun: air], John-cloud, hath masked Ham from me now” (5). The sense would be that John Hall, as Will’s son-and-heir, helps blot out the loss of the son, Hamnet.

          More basically, I believe that in Will’s own mind the Quarto project would have served several purposes and fit several paradigms: In one primary sense it is a kind of epithalamion group celebrating Hall’s marriage to Susanna (and, especially in Set I, urging their procreation), with the “marriage” of Sonnets and Runes an apt analogue for the couplet; concurrently, I think, the project is a dual tribute to Will’s twins: The visible Sonnets are analogous to the living daughter Judith, with the buried Runes emblematic of the dead Hamnet. Further, the torturous overlay of Sonnets and Runes, like warp and woof in a complex tapestry, was probably a self-effacing gesture of contrition, a self-imposed “cross” to bear, a kind of mea culpa that an absent, artistic father could carry out as partial expiation for his own separation from his family. Critics unfriendly to such psycho-theorizing can easily ignore the suggestion.

          Routine witticisms about Anne, Judy (Judith), Sue (Susanna), T.T. (Will’s known printing agent Thomas Thorpe), and Southy (patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton) occur. Examples include these: “...eye Ju / dy, here John see low, death masked Ham from me now” (4-5) and “wicked aye, m’ Anne, death ought suffice wittily...” (11). Q’s letterstring Su c hc i uill waris in… (opening 7), encodes, e.g., “Sue see (Susie) huss (Susie H. see), aye vile (evil), worries John,” “…hussy will war aye, sin (vile whore…, …worry scene, ...worry scion, ...worsen),” and so on.

          More general wit includes the sexual pun “feminine ‘O’ is thine alone” (4).

Sample Puns

          1) Fair homme, fool, near this inches; a tune’s gaiety; His air hum; Hamnet [cf. above]; Hymen’s; a tune; a twin; suck 8; thief
          2) Witch, John, you pass—eye snot, pity (piety); W.H. itch, aye new (I knew), passes not; itching, you piss; eye snot, pity Bess, whore
          2-3) not paid before t’ Hat., dues; red, hideous, m’ Annie nosed hiney low (…knows it, anal one [wand])
          3) deux, dieu; dust; m’ Anne y’ now eye, Southy, kneel; eye City, kneel; an “O” is wasting alone; awl wan; feminine “O” is thine alone; my nine
          3-4) a tome aye rich
          4) Tommy; Two [i.e.,sonnets and runes] march in ranks; Tome, high-reaching rune, see; kiss of Betty; see keys
          4-5) bitter keep, a jetty region; eke [also] you eye page, the regions lauded him (hymn); a quip: Eye Judy, her age I own—CL [i.e., 150]; egg
          5) their guns loud; John’s lauded hymn; see love, death, masked Ham. S., rheumy now (in “O”); Th’ heir, John, saluteth my ass; cloudeth; lo, you death amaze, kid; hymn of Roman “O”
          6) To Ham’t, Hat. bears thee strong; love; oven’s loaf
          6-7) off in Sicily’s huge civil war is enemy (I sin); Ares
          7) civil war is in Milan; His huge silver is in my loan; Anne Hat.; my love innate
          7-8) dieting lass thou take
          8) a cat had honor from thy name; “V” (you) in lass—th’ “O”—take that, hone ’er, sir, emit high neigh
          8-9) sorrow meeting aye m’ Anne
          9) tough awl (Hall); art o’ faulty glory
          9-10) Anne—by, apart—awful; offal, a part of Hall, thick, low, really uterine, all numb arse, twat (taut, or stout)
        10) Eat urn, awl, numb arse too; Anne [et] urn awling you may be; Eternal numbers taught Livy
        10-11) lo, in jetty twitch, Timon died
        11) Wicked, eye m’ Anne; foe; Eve
        11-12) tail, dusty dick, I’ve too, be hairy, low; Shakespeare [st] dick, heavy to bear, love’s wrong
        12) Tup ’er, love Sue, wrong then hate; Hat’s known injury
        12-13) in jury W.H. erred; know a Nein jury, W., Harry, thou art forced to break a tussled Ruth
        13) W., Harry, t’ Howard forces T.T. (titty); at wassail died Ruth
        14) Anne—both forms ache; both forms ache [sonnets, runes are hard]; lay song; both, sore mistake, lay on me; zeros see; see row FF [i.e., loud]; C-Row, ass, see; th’ rheumy f--k lay on me this cross; meet high cirrus (Sirius); my fickle eye; a kee1 eye, John, meaty is series

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—FW TTTTS VAEV T WA[V?]— encodes likely wit about “T.T.” (i.e., Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent and the T.T. of Q’s frontmatter) linked with puerile jokes about women’s breasts: e.g., “Oft witty T.T. swayed (...sued) we,” “If wet (...witty), T.T.’s waved away,” “Few titties waved we (...waved away),” “Feud, it is waved away ( is woe to weigh),” “Of wet titty so ate we,” “Oft witty T.T. swayed we,” “Oaf, witty T.T., Southy, weigh,” “Feuded Southy. Why?” and the like. (U, V, and W tend to interchange in Will’s alphabetic code.)

          The upward reverse[V?]AWT VE A V S TTTTWF—may be decoded to read, e.g., “Vowed [Owed, Ode] we ‘Aves’ t’ T.T. tough,” “Vow tough, stiff,” “Votive Eve-stuff,” “Votive Eve’s tough,” “Vaunt we owe, St. T.T. t’ wife,” and “Oat waves titties. Whiff.”       

Proceed to Rune 41
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