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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 22
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Rune 21
Seventh lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)


                          Rune 21

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

     Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
     With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers;
     The age to come would say, “This poet lies!”
 4  And, “Every fair from fair sometime declines!”
     To the wide world, and all her fading, sweet’s
     A man in hue, all hues in his controlling:
     With April’s first-born flowers and all things rare
 8  Which in thy breast doth live (as thine in me,
     And in mine own), love’s strength seem to decay
     Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still;
     And in themselves their pride lies burièd
12 But that I hope some good conceit of thine
     And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
     The one by toil, the other to complain.
__________
      Glosses:
1) Vaunt (sb., archaic) = A brag or boast; 2) bear puns on “bare,” i.e., reveal; your living flowers (fig.) = these poems, lines that “flow”; 9) seem = may seem; 11) themselves (ambig.) points back to flowers and all things rare (see 2, 7) and/or to the...world (5)—that is, humans; 12) But that I hope = “Unless I wish into being,” with hope a pun on “ope” (i.e., open up).


     21. A Man I Knew Hangs in My Bosom’s Shop


     A boast showing the flowing sap of youth just at its peak, before decline sets in,
     is what your living “flow-ers”—these lines—propose, with constructive intentions, to reveal, uphold, and keep on producing.
     In the face of this, future men and women may say, “This poet’s lying!”
  4 and, “Everything beautiful finally droops!”
     People all over the world, used to seeing things fade, find gratifying
     a man—such as John Hall, perhaps—colorfully decked out, preserving and manipulating all colors:
     Along with early April flowers and with everything rare
  8 that lives in your heart (as your heart lives in me,
     and in my own heart), love’s strength may appear to decay
     even while still preserved in the shop my heart keeps;
     and—the world being both self-centered and powerless to keep you, the pride of humanity, alive—you will perish, and even these lines will conceal your virtues
12 unless I dream up some aptly original poetic figure that catches your reality
     and, to that end, manage to keep my sleepy eyes open,
     one for working, the other to complain.


Comments

           As elsewhere in Set II, Will here is self-conscious about his work as a writer who is trying to immortalize his subject. Notably, he chooses Rune 21 to write of an age when a man reaches his peak. Such numerologic preoccupations guide the structure of the Q project and often color its content.

          Taking the poem soberly, we may envision some quaint shop where undying flowers hang, and we can see how carefully Will has worked out his main conceit (12)—his unusual, attention-grabbing metaphor: As “Color Man,” the friend in effect controls “all hues” (6) including those of flowers (2, 7) and keeps them ideally in his heart, which Will keeps in his own breast (8-9), a “shop” (10). As a foil--that is, a dramatic contrast—the incredulous “world” (5, see 3, 11) is accustomed to seeing natural things die and depends on the poet for salvation, since “their pride” (11), which they will lose without some kind of help, is not only the friend-hero but their very connection to beauty. “Virtuous wish” (2) and “But that I hope some good…” (12) echo the mild boast that Will intends to do the world a favor by finding just the right conceit to keep beauty alive. Thus the poem is like an extended “vaunt”—that is, a “boast” or bragging statement (see 1, 12)—and is not really the “complaint” (see 14) that the poet’s last word implies.

          Though the pun “Vaunting their youthful sap...” (1) makes the opening read more easily for us moderns, “Vaunt” is an archaic noun meaning “boastful bragging,” and the noun works as the direct object of would bear in line 2.

          Will’s main “butcher shop” conceit (see 6-9) is so strained as to parody itself in an overlaid tangle of puns and add-ons about exactly what is “kept” where. The poem is finally comic, even grotesque, especially because “hanging” (10) not only makes the poet’s shop seem like a meat market but also has phallic overtones—and because we know how much “hewing” is going on in this paste-up project with all its cut-up bits and pieces. The “hue” (or “hew”) in these two breasts (8, 10) is likely to be blood-red. Details such as “rare” (7), “decay” (9), “buried” (11), and “bare” (see 2) even suggest a hanging corpse that stays vivid. Finally we picture a tired and grumbling butcher rather than a weary poet.

          Underscoring the poet’s wit are his “cross-eyed” ending and all the suggestive terms about liquids, height and decline, hues and bareness, virtue and “lying,” “pride,” “drooping,” and “c**t-rolling” (6)—the last a typically indecent example of Renaissance wordplay on a topic that Hamlet jokingly calls “country matters”(Hamlet 3.2.123).

          Part of the wit depends on reading “flow-ers” (2, 7) as “things that flow”—and thus, metaphorically, as Will’s own verses. The eyepun “slurs” hides in flowers because f = “long s.”

          The brightly hued, hanging “flow-ers” have various other suggestive senses. Other elements that promote bawdy innuendo include “youthful sap”; “at height decrease” (1); “bare your living ‘flow-er’ [i]s” (2); “to come” (3); “fiery foam-time declines” (4); “fading” (5); puns on “awl” (5, 6, 7); “A man I knew” (6); “inch” (2, 6, 10, 13); “ ‘I’ is hanging still” (10); and “drooping eye” (13) as testicle. Line 11 hints at undescended testicles.

          The poem is partly a comic catalog of body parts, often encrypted as puns: “hair,” “dick, arise” (1); “...bare rear, lung-flow, arse” (2); “puddle eyes” (3); “meaty, my dick lean is taut” (4-5); “tooth white [wide],” with pictographic “w’s” as “fangs” (5); “tanned, eye Lear’s odd inches wet [weighty]” (5); “anew, aloose, eye nice c**t”; “see entrail-inch” (6); “high chin,” “bosom” (10), “butt haughty” (12), and “drooping eyelids” (13-14).

          Line 6 here (Sonnet 20.7) has enjoyed a history of serious critical discussion about its punning meaning in Sonnet 20. Scholars trying to identify Will’s unnamed male muse have noted that Hews (Q6), emphatically italicized, looks like a pun on “Hughes.”

          More likely, I think, Hews is a red herring with many “meanings.” For example, to a coterie reader bent on finding wit in it, the word may suggest “He, W.S.”; “H [an acrostic ‘ladder’] use”; “Swe H. [reversed],” a short for Susanna Hall, Will’s daughter; “He[nry] W[riothesley], S[outhampton],” Will’s only known patron; and/or “He IN [= In. = Jn. = John] is John H.” In any case, the italicized conundrum is a tiny part of Will’s irreducible “Who’s my muse?” game in Q.

          Though line 6 is no more pun-ridden than any other in Q, it does illustrate what heavily diverse freight any given line can carry in Q’s letterstring game. Decodings below focus on “family” possibilities--on the poet’s wife, Anne, and his son-in-law, Dr. John Hall:

                    1) “Amen, Annie: John Hall you sense....” The “Amen” is one aspect of recurring wit about Anne’s “piety.” A “bestial” pun on “ewe-sin” lurks here, too.
                    2) “A man I knew, John Hall, using his c**t-roweling wit...” (6-7). A “rowel” was a spur-like object inserted under the skin of animals (OED).
                    3) “A man, John H., you’ll use, John H is controlling / wit....”
                    4) “A man I knew, Hall, losing his control....”
                    5) “A man, John H., he John Hall, you sense....”
                    6) “‘Amen’ anew, aloose Jn. H.’s cantor, howling.”

          Other “John Hall” puns seem to take up the topic of a family heir: Lines 1-3 pun, e.g., “You [V = U] want John, th’ heir you’d have...” and “You want, John, th’ heir youthful, soon as possible [= s.a.p.?]....” Lines 2-3 pun, “With you arduous, [Witty, virtuous...] Wife Hall’d bear your living fellow, our stage-to-come....” One variant reading of lines 1-3 is, “You want, John, th’ heir youthful, s.a.p., a tidy seraph, / With virtuous wife Hall t’ bear your living fellow, our s/tage-to-come....” The pun on “stage” is, of course, apt.

          Disparaging “Anne puns” color other lines: e.g., lines 4-5 pun, “And every fair from fair sometime declines: Toothy, wide harlot Anne, dull her fading sweets.” Line 11 puns, “Anne-anthem is else [i.e., otherwise] th’ air [‘Th’ Heir!’]. Period....” One of hundreds of puns in Q suggesting that Anne was a large woman occurs at the close: e.g., “The wan, bitty earl [= oyle], the ‘oather’ [i.e., the sworn coterie member], took ample Anne” (14).

          Part of the wit depends on reading “flow-ers” (2, 7) as “things that flow”—and thus, metaphorically, as Will’s own verses. The eyepun “slurs” hides in flowers because f = “long ‘s’.” The brightly hued, hanging “flow-ers” have various other suggestive senses. Other elements that promote bawdy innuendo include “youthful sap”; “at height decrease” (1); “bare your living ‘flow-er’ [i]s” (2); “to come” (3); “fiery foam-time declines” (4); “fading” (5); puns on “awl” (5, 6, 7); “A man I knew” (6); “inch” (2, 6, 10, 13); “ ‘I’ is hanging still” (10); and “drooping eye” (13) as testicle. Line 11 hints at undescended testicles.

          The poem is, in fact, partly a comic catalog of body parts, often encrypted as puns: “hair,” “dick, arise” (1); “...bare rear, lung-flow, arse” (2); “puddle eyes” (3); “meaty, my dick lean is taut” (4-5); “tooth white [wide],” with pictographic “w’s” as “fangs” (5); “tanned, eye Lear’s odd inches wet [weighty]” (5); “anew, aloose, eye nice c**t”; “see entrail-inch” (6); “high chin,” “bosom” (10), “butt haughty” (12), and “drooping eyelids” (13-14).


Sample Puns

          1) (phallic); Vaunting t’ Harry oaths, you love a pated dick or ass; vapid, haughty dick; abated (a tight, tied) dick erase; jetted, see Eros-wit
          1-2) jetted series witty, virtuous
          2) Witty we are t’ you, housewife wood [crazy], bare; be airy your loo; flow-ers (cf. flowing lines), slurs; your live inches lure arse
          3) The itch (edge) to come would sate puta; …would sate his bodily ass; woody is “I”; this poet sly is; sight his puddle (puddly ass)
          3-4) poet’ll ascend (ascent); Sandy (bodily ascent), you arise, Harry S., roam, sir, vomit; sour vomit I made easy; m’ deckle eye nice (Annie S.); foam-time (ejaculatory); fair… declines (phallic)
          4-5) Ass taught you “I do,” Earl
          5) dandy Hall hears a “ding” sweet; hearsed inches we eat; feud
          5-6) few eat salmon; Solomon I knew
          5-7) witty ass (is) a man I knew, Hall, using his cunt, rolling with ape or ill asses
          6) A critically punning line (see above): Amen, John Hall, you sin; all Hews (emphatic Q) reverses to suggest swe Hll (Sue Hall); cunt-rolling, cunt-roll inch; Amen, Annie wails; Aye m’ Onan, Hall, you sin; Hall using his cantor, howling
          7) Witty peer ill is; Sir Shakespeare [= st] born (boring, i.e., drilling) is; scenty Hall “thing” is rare; Witty appear, ill ass, sir, sit, be horny, ass lower, sin; if it be horny “flower” is handy, Hall thing’s rare (our air [heir]); Shakespeare be o’er, Niece-lure Sandell thinks
          7-8) things ire our Witch Auntie, bereft, doty
          8) W.H. I see, Hen., thy bare ass doth live, aye, Southy, neigh in me; loo
          8-9) thin enemy, Anne
          9) Anne dying, m’ Annie, O kneel, office fit rune jets, emitted easy; see m’ toady’s “I”
        10) Witch-enemy; Witch John may be of hommes, show pissing “I”; fop’s hanging ass till
        10-11) inch-fiddle ended
        11) Indent “Ham. S.,” else th’ heir-pride lies buried; Anne-dying theme see; leaves t’ Harry appeared; there be riddle, Aesop you read
        12) Beauty type; Bawdy Hat. I ope, foamy, good cunt see, aped often
        12-13) hine-end, dick-pee, my drooping “I” laid ass open wide; ill eye Dis, open wide; Aesop new eyed
        14) Th’ Annie Betty let heat hurt “O’s” homme plain (peel, Annie); oather, too, see humble Annie; the wan (one) Betty; let heat hurt Occam, pealing [cf. death by fire—or in hell]


Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—VWTAT AW WAW ABAT—suggests, e.g., “Vaunted awe, woe abate,” “Voted [i.e., Devoted religiously] awe, woe abate,” “Vote I t’ eye Wa-Wa [suggesting crying, peeing, muttering ‘water’] Betty,” and “V [a pictographic crotch] wedded, a woe abate [obeyed, abed].”

           The upward acrostic—TA BA WA WWATAT WV—can be read, e.g., “To bay, we waded wave,” “Tabby we wedded, wife,” “T’ bawdy, ‘I do’,” “T’ body adieu,” “To Betty adieu (‘I do’),” “To be wedded, wave,” and “To be woe, wed I (aye) t’ wife.
   

             
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