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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 II, Runes 15-28: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 20
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Rune 19
Fifth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                         Rune 19

     (Fifth lines, Set II: Sonnets 15-28)

     When I perceive that men, as plants, increase,
     Now stand you on the top of happy hours.
     If I could write the beauty of your eyes!
 4  Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines;
     Make glad and sorry, seasons—as thou fleetest,
     An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
     Making a couplement of proud compare
 8  For all that beauty that doth cover thee.
     So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
     Fore, “Through the painter must you see his skill.”
     Great princes’ favorites their fair leaves spread,
12 Duty so great. Which wit so poor as mine?
     For thin my thoughts, from far where I abide
     And—each though enemies—two ethers reign.
     Glosses: 2) happy hours suggests an illuminated Book of Hours (see 10-11); 5) Make...seasons: i.e., “Seasons bring both joy and sorrow”; 6) eye suggests the sun; An eye puns on “Annie,” linking with Make (i.e., Mate) in 5 and Making in 7; 7) couplement = linkage (of eyes, of texts [such as Sonnets/Runes], etc.), analogy; 8) For all puns on “Fore-all” (phallic) and “For Hall” (suggesting Will’s son-in-law); 9) So puns on Sue, alluding to Will’s daughter Susanna, Mrs. John Hall; “Judy” is the other daughter; thus, e.g., the pun “Sue is our fairest trust—fore Judy S. aye”; 12) so (twice) puns further on Sue; mine puns on “m’ Anne (...Annie)”; 13) I puns on “aye,” “eye” (see 6), suggesting the sun; 14) And puns on Anne; two ethers reign puns on “...rain,” suggesting, “two eyes weep.”

     19. A Couplement of Proud Compare

     At a time when I see men thriving, sprouting up like plants,
     you outdo them all, standing at the very top of the illuminator’s page, a summer sun at noon!
     If only I could describe the beauty of your eyes!
  4 Sometimes the eye of heaven is too hot,
     and the seasons themselves are inconstant in their effects; meanwhile you move on swiftly,
     like a sun brighter than any season’s, one less fickle in your revolutions,
     showing a real pair of beautiful eyes that suggest a handsome adjunct
  8 to all the beauty your countenance reveals—and to the proud couple who bore you. (Your eyes generate these linked texts. The “sun” analogy is a good one.)
     Thus, feeling myself untrustworthy on the subject, Sue, I haven’t said your name, nor said
     earlier that a painter’s artistry must always show in his work.
     The favorite courtly artists of great princes disseminate their fine pages,
12 important work indeed. What wit, Sue, is so poorly equipped for doing this as mine?
     For my thoughts are divided, meager and remote, here far from
     Anne, and two contentious clusters of influence dominate and coexist, London and Stratford skies pull me apart, two spheres reign, sonnets and runes contend, two eyes weep.


          The auditor’s beauty (1-8) and the poet’s struggle to convey it (9-14) form the subject matter. Developing a usual Renaissance conceit, the octave compares an admirable subject to the sun— life-giving, “ethereal,” “happy.” Extended playfulness devolves from the paradox that the listener’s two eyes become one orb: e.g., “ether’s rain” (14) suggests tears from the two “warring” eyes, contradicting the earlier suggestion of unity and “steadfastness” (see 6). Concurrently, the pun in “eye” (4, 6) on phallic “I” allows alternate conclusions about which of the friend’s attributes is actually “shining.” “Low” readings intrude because the “couplement of proud come-pair” (7)—”two ethers” that “reign/rain” (14)—may be testicles, another kind of “eyes.”

          Typically, the poet is also discussing the runic linkage of overt and suppressed texts in such figures as “couplement” (7), “fair leaves” (11), and the “two ethers” that command the poet’s attention and spread him “thin” (13-14). In his self-deprecation (9-14), of course, he actually shows greater wit than other authors do who write to honor great men (see 11). In Rune 19.11 comes the first hint in Q of any concern about a “rival poet.” One now sees that, by working in two mediums at once, Will is jokingly his own “rival.” Such puns as “fair leaves speared [cut in two],” “deux-tie [a double-knot] so great” (11-12), and “through the thin tear [slight rip (p = th)] must you see his skill” (10) amplify the joke about rune-writing. Details and puns that expand the motif of writing include “hours” (2), adumbrating an illuminated canonical book; “write” (3), linking with “painter”; “more be written, th’ air’s less false” (6); “Making a couplement: (7), suggesting gathering and binding; “cover” (8); “wit” (12); “thin my thoughts” (13); “th’ O [i.e., round or rune], gin [i.e., engine] eye, ms.’d ode hear (I’m stouter), serene” (14); and “ink-erase” (1)—wittily relevant to the vanished compositions in the poet’s palimpsestic text.

           “Plant’s increase” (1) and “fair leaves spread” (11) unite printing and horticultural conceits. The motif of a summer sun (and “happy hours”) implies that the auditor inspires “leaves” the way the sun promotes growth. “Thin” (13) applies to a slender volume or spindly plant. The pun “W. H., any peer, see ivy—that means plants increase” (1) jokes that coterie readers should imagine vinelike decorations like those in Books of Hours. The poem opens with sun and closes with rain that suggests tears. The pun “thin th’ air is” (6) anticipates “Ethers” (14) and may means—in this game of “eithers”— “clear skies.” “Growth” and “increase” also have witty phallic implications.

           “Chicken” puns include “coop-element” (7), “Forth, hen!” (13), “die in ditch, thou guinea!” (14), and “Mine forte [OED 1648], Hen” (12-13). Such “Hen’s” are plays on “Henry” surely aimed at least partly at Southampton and his circle. Bawdy jokes abound, too—e.g., “When I pierce Eve, that means plan to censor Eve” (1), “In ‘O’ is 10’d [tanned] John the ‘tup’ of happy whores” (2), and “Your ‘I’ is so mete (meaty), I’m a twat” (3-4). The phrase “So I for fear” (9) yields, “Sow wife or seer,” “So I force ‘er,” “Sue I force here.” Anne-wit—as in “Annie, my whore…” (6)—abounds.

Sample Puns

          1) stressing men, with phallic innuendo; Wen I perceived, Hat.-menace plain; m’ Annie supplants increase; many supple ends in crease; sin see, erase
          1-2) increase in “O”—Shakespeare [= st, the name cipher], Anne; An “O” withstand you, Auntie; fop pierce; fop-peers; happy whores
          3) I, fickle, write; Eye fecal rite, the bawdy of your “I’s”; O, Sue, arise
          4) Sue mete I met; eye m’ twat; shoeing ass; hie, niece
          5) Ma[t]e gladdened forty sea-sons; fart, ye ass, ease “O” incised; hovel; offal, eat of it
          6) Annie, m’whore, be-reddened her ass (…Harry’s less sullen rolling); a name o’er bright; I name orb written th’ Arse, laugh; brighten th’ heir S., lass is all-seen, ruling; lass’s awl, seen ruling; here’s lass, see Saul in her “O”
          6-7) false John rolling, making a couplement
          7) M’ aching ass ope, element of proud compare; see homme “pair”; dick, homme-pee-er; empire; peel, men, tough, “prowed,” come, peer
          8) For Hall (Fore-awl), that beauty
          8-9) Hat. doth cowardice owe [i.e., confess], I saw her, sirs
          9) Sue eye-sore is; ears to roast (tore host); fears to roost; for-jet, tough “I”
        10) Farter Huge, the Panter Muffed; enter, muse; Anne tear—muff, toes ease; muff-diseases kill (suggesting V.D.); muff, to you physical
        11) Greet pee-runes (Greedy prunes), favorites t’ harass Harry, loo’s (loose) sprayed; fair “loaves” spread (speared); erase (“eary” as) m’ Annie
        12) you tease ogre aye; W.H. aye chewed (achooed, suggesting “sneezed”) supper, a salmon
        12-13) eye Simon, farting my thoughts (mighty oats)
        13) my furrow eye, ape-hide
        13-14) Fair Homme, Sir, W.H., Harry, abide in ditch; fey rear eye, a biting itch; where I abide, in ditch
        14) Anne; Annie-ms., enemas; here is (her ass, harass), our Annie; eye miss (ms.), daughter serene; totters reign

Acrostic Wit

          The downward emphatic acrostic codeline—WN IS MAM F S F GD FA—suggests such readings as “When is ‘Memphis’ fadged [fitted together in parts], fey?” “When is Memphis of good faith?” “Wen [protuberance, like a hill] is Memphis…,” “W. nice Ma’am fast f--ked, fey,” “When is m’ Ham[net] fast, fadged fey?” “When is Ma’am fist-f--ked fey?” “ W. Annie S. maim, fist-f--k, defy,” and “Wen is m’ aim (Wens maim), fist-f--k defy.”

           The upward (reverse) codelineA FDG F S F MAM SIN W—suggests, e.g., “A fadge [i.e., bundle] of ass, of Ma’am-sin. W.,” “Have dog, fice, of ma’am sinew,” “Half-dug [teat], office of ma’am-sinew,” and “Have dog, office of m’ A.M. scene. W [also pictographic fangs].” With F = S, such readings as “Assed guest (Acid gust), Ma’am, is in you” emerge.

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