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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 21
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Rune 20
Sixth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                       Rune 20

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

     Cheered and checked ev’n by the self-same sky,
     And many maiden gardens yet unset
     And in fresh, numbers number all your graces,
 4  And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
     And—do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed time—
     Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth
     With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,
 8  Is but the seemly raiment of my heart.
     The perfect ceremony of love’s wright,
     To find where your true image pictured lies,
     But (as the marigold at the sun’s eye)
12 May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it.
     Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee;
     Do, in consent, shake hands to torture me.
     Glosses: 1) checked puns on “chequered” (like an acrostic gameboard); 2) gardens suggests knot-gardens and thus (unwritten) poems; the line puns, e.g., “Anne, m’ Annie, made a neger dance (...may eat a neger dense). Why et [= and = Anne], And’s [= Anne S.] et...,” with complex plays on eat/et/et/and/Anne; 3) And in continues the Anne/Anne humor; in fresh = just planted; numbers = verses; 4) his = the sky’s (see 1), implying both “the sun” (see 7) and “your” (see 3); 5) time implies meter (see 3); 6) it = my heart (see 8), punning on “my art” and implying the sun; 7) sun puns on “son” (see 4, 11), i.e., Will’s dead son, Hamnet; 8) seemly puns on “seamly” (i.e., patched together, as Sonnets and Runes are), with heart punning on art; 9) wright (Q right): also, right (prerogative); 11) But = Merely; 13) Intend = Take note of; 14) consent puns on “cunt-scent.”

     20. The Seemly Raiment of My Art

     Heartened and held back by the same fickle sky,
     with many virgin knot-rows yet to be lined out
     or freshly planted, my verses enumerate all your graces,
  4 but with that “sky” often clouded over, hiding its essential brilliance.
     Now, whatever time or my own dashed-off verses may do,
     decorating the subject that my heart gazes on
     with conceits of sun and moon, with the rich gems of earth and sea,
  8 is merely the suitable (but gored) raiment my heart (and art) provides.
     This appropriate ritual, practiced by love’s craftsman as love’s prerogative,
     the act of discovering where the right conceit for your true image lies,
     may—like a marigold held up in the face of the sun—
12 merely convey bareness, for lack of the words to picture you as you are.
     Take note of a devout quest toward you;
     if you want to torment me, acknowledge it with a handshake.


           The text laments the frustrations of a hard writing project undertaken to honor an unnamed auditor who’s remote, fickle, and maybe unappreciative; the vacillations here inher more strictly in the two-pronged text than in the ostensible subject—so that the “shaking hands” (14) that torture the poet may well be his own. In any case, the anxieties about the cycle and its eventual acceptance and fate seem real. The texture is thick, the syntax elliptical, the coherence dependent on double meanings and puns in the figures that allow the poet to shift his conceits: planting a garden, gilding and clothing an image, performing a “ceremony” of adoration, making a pilgrimage. “Checked” (1), meaning variegated or checkered, governs and describes the poem, with its catalog of mixed conceits. Puns on “seamly” and “seam” (8, 12)—“pieced together”—are also strategic.

           If the fickle sky (1) means the inspiring auditor, with the poet the gardener who’s planting his knot-rows as best he can, then the friend as a sun-figure is too often “behind the clouds.” But the sun is also “dimmed” (4) because the poet is ineffective, holding up “marigold” verses (see 11) that merely parody the life-giver and in fact block out the sun’s face. The pun on “ray” in “raiment” (8) segues into the new conceit—“gilding” and “clothing” the friend’s image with rich natural figures; this notion proceeds in “bare” (12)—with the pun “seamly” operative—and clarifies somewhat the poet’s attempt to “create an image.” The new figure, in turn, suggests an icon and allows the poet to be a “zealous pilgrim,” with details such as “swift-footed time” (5) and “where…lies” (10) expanding the motif of pilgrimage. By the last line, the “bare image” that emerges from the speaker’s rhetoric, the object of his adoration, seems Christlike: The pilgrim would find it “torturous” to hold the nail-scarred hand. “Seamly raiment” (8) contrasts with the seamless garment of the Crucified Christ, and such plays as “Mary” and “Son, sigh” (11) reinforce the inherent biblical allusion. Meanwhile, the pun on “cunt-scent” (14) and the hint that the auditor plows “maiden gardens” (2) paint a different Calvary—with the rivalry of women one possible reason the speaker fears rejection and disappointment when he finally meets his muse.

            Coterie references include plays on “Guild” (6) and the printer “G. Eld” and arcane business about sun and moon—à la the modern Proctor and Gamble logo—and a “peer-sect ceremony” or “rite” (9). “Checked” (1) suggests gameboards and acrostics, and “Gardens” (2) may be “knots” of intricate rows. “Fresh numbers” (3), “footed time” (5), “art” (8, pun), and “Eye Magi pictured” (10) develop this cluster. Instead of “Shake spear to torture me,” one hears “…hands.”

            Diction about nature, especially horticulture, accumulates: sky, “unset” gardens, fresh, gold complexion dimmed, wilt, sun and moon, earth’s and sea’s rich gems, marigold, sun’s eye, and May. Words that have to do with religion, trips, and icons amplify “zealous pilgrimage” (13).

            Like Rune 22, the poem manages a rhymed couplet close.

Sample Puns

           1) See Harry dainty (dandy), cheeked
           1-2) the False, Fey, Musky Anne, Dim Annie, m’ Eden Garden’s yet unfit; Ye Ton (Tun) of Anne [= et]; Keen [Wail], demean y’ May dingy, hard in Satan fit [stanza]
           2) midden
           3) Ending (Anne-din) of reason, numb her ass, numb her awl; an homme be ruler gray
           3-4) gray seas Anne tossed; a ruler graces end, host anus
           4) Anne, Dusty Anus; anus’s gold complexion dimmed; come, peel, X [crucify] John damned Hamn’t
           4-5) midden
           5) Anne-twat
           5-6) Anne-daughter, thou wilt as wife t’ Southy, dead image
           6) Guild; G. Eld.; dinghy [?] obeys W., Harry—a pun
           6-7) Eye t’ Gaza, thou eyed sun and moon wittier than disease or itchy miss (ms.)
           7) son; wit hearty; Caesar I see edge ms.
           8) Eye Sabbath seemly; female, your “I” mend; your Amen, tough merd; aye, men, toss m’ art; ray-mint
           9) Th’ peer-sect (th’ peer of Hecate) see, Harry, moan ye, “Oslo’s right (rite)”; O, slow, sir, I jet
           9-10) Oslo’s rigid, tough, endure your terror aye
         10) aye my Egypt Esther dallies; Two find W., Harry, your true Image; W., Harry, you Howard rhyme; you rhyme Egypt’s turtle eyes (turd-allies)
         11) Butt esteem; Mary called aye, “T.T.”; mirage old at heaven’s eye; But is the miracle dead?
         11-12) But as the miracle died, heaven see ye maim, ache; Hat., the sun’s eye, my make’s [mate’s] ember, John, wanting words to issue it
         12) My make’s ami be a rune; barren; bare contrasts with raiment (8); words too few (tough you) eyed; tough hewed; to shit, I need “ends-loose” pills
         12-13) to feuding tend, a zealous pilgrimage
         13) Ending dazzles pilgrim; pill grim I jotted (jetted)
         13-14) Eden; Eaten
         14) Twin son’s end t’ f--k, handy ass t’ torture me; Twin son, ascend, shaking Dis to torture me; fake ends tutored your rhyme; taught whore to you rhyme; do in cunt-scent…; tottered (daughtered), you rhyme

Acrostic Wit

           The downward lefthand acrostic codeline—CAAAAG WITT B MID—suggests such readings as, e.g., “Cagy wit B.M. eyed [cf. below, ‘Cagy wit be midden-issue…’],” “Cagy wight be maid,” “See, Age Witty beamed (be 1499),” and “See a Jew, aye T.T. B.M. eyed.”

           The upward reverse codeline—DIM BTTIWGAAAAC—may be decoded to read, e.g., “Dim Betty wags,” “Damn bitty wages,” “Dim Betty, you guess,” “Damn Betty Waaaas!” and “Damn bitty wage I aye see.” Acrostic wit may be encoded beyond the first column: Thus the letterstring code CAAAG WITT BE MID/hnnn ni ishou an o/edddd lt et yt here (a down/down/down letterstring) suggests, e.g.,“Cagy wit be midden [i.e., dunghill]- issue, an ode! Let it yet…,” “See a Jew, it be a maiden…,” and “See a jawed B.M. hidden issue….” A “cag” is an insult or stiff point.

           Determining how much of such a code is authorially manipulated, in either a specific case or generally throughout the buried cycle, is one of Q’s many conundrums.

Proceed to Rune 21
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