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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 24
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Rune 23
Ninth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                         Rune 23

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

     Thin the conceit of this inconstant stay,
     So should the lines of life that leaf repair;
     So fold my papers, yellowed with their age,
 4  But thy Eternal Summer shall not fade!
     O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
     And for a woman wert thou first created.
     O, let me, true in love, but truly write.
 8  O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary,
     O, let my books be then the eloquence.
     Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done
     The painful warrior famousèd for worth.
12 Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
     Save that, my soul’s imaginary sight ,
     I tell the day, “To please him thou art bright.”
1) stay = pedestal, support; 2) Q should (with a long s) is an eyepun on “fold,” relevant to leaf; repair = restore, reassemble; 4) not puns on “knot,” puzzle; 5) hours (Q howers) puns on “whores”; 14) him (ambig.) = my soul, my imagination (see 13). Opening the poem is the pun “Thin/Thick, onset of this [poem] inconstant is to eye.”

      23. The Painful Warrior Famousèd for Worth

     My conceits here are flimsy: This work is a shaky pedestal for mounting a hero.
     Thus a future lineage must restore my page to its former liveliness, must reassemble and reinforce my forms.
     Yellowed by time but still mirroring the present Golden Age, this structure may collapse, this book stay closed, these pages go unread,
  4 yet you’ll always be fair, and I’ll still be your Eternal Summer—your undimmed sun, your shining metricist.
     O, as you spend hours wrinkling your brow over this, if you’ll just promise not to carve new wrinkles on my love’s fair brow in doing so,
     I can regard you as a new and perfect Adam, created just for a flawless Eve.
     O, why can’t I express myself just as precisely as my love is true!
  8 O, my friend in future years, watch out. Keep yourself secondary, and be skeptical of imposing your own thoughts on mine,
     O, so that you let my writings convey their own eloquence to readers of your own day.
     Now see what good turns your eyes, alive in the future, have done for this visionary
     poet—famous, substantive, hard, a painstaking and pain-inflicting struggler—and for the unnamed hero he would memoralize.
12 Until whatever star controlling my life and lines
     ensures the perpetuation of my deepest inner vision (and the ideal image it tries to capture) in some future age,
     I say to the day, “Your sun shines just to illuminate my creative imagination.” (I say to that future era, “You, my recompositor, apply your wit only to be of service to the Bard.)


          Heavy with “O’s,” mock lamentations, these 14 lines comprising Rune 23 open the sestets in the visible Sonnets 15-28 and thus help achieve logical transition there.

          I’ve settled on a reading of Rune 23 that takes several words in 1-3 as puns: Then as “Thin” (1); the second life (2) as “leaf” (or “page”); and should (Q3) as the eyepun “fold.” Other reader/players can find gamy alternatives. Though Sonnets editors, often skeptical about whether Q’s published form is Will’s own, have routinely emended Q’s details, I’ve felt honor bound as first editor of the Runes to take the texts “as is” wherever I can. However, Q is all double entendre anyway, and some of the best textual readings hinge on puns.

          Accepting punning variants as primary doesn’t negate my premise that Q’s details, jot-and-tittle, are indeed Will’s own—almost certainly rendered into type minim-by-minim by his printing agent Thomas Thorpe.

          The word “conceit” in line 1 (see OED) ambiguously means ego, a trick, and/or a strained poetic comparison of the sort that Will (in Q) and later the Metaphysical poets favored.

          Both “Painful Warrior” (11)—a pun on “Pay-in-full Worrier” that echoes “wary” (8)—and “Eternal Summer” are conceits for the poet, who assumes here the mock-heroic voice of one who plays “savior” to his knight, ambiguously gendered (see 6). Will is, punningly, a “summer”—an “adder,” a “numbers man,” a metricist who uses “figures,” an “accountant” tallying things up. (In 1609, “numbers” meant “metrics.” Each visible Q text is a number.)

          Because the same two phrases may also be names for the poet’s muse, they’re “inconstant” conceits (see 1). Will’s wish to ensure immortality is also twofold, focusing both on his own poems and on the unnamed person he addresses.

          Vaguely subjunctive or conditional verbs such as “stay” (1) and “Save” (13)—along with “should,” “shall,” and “let” constructions—allow a sense of indefinite outcome and possibility that looks ahead to the future day the Runes are “repaired,” reassembled, perhaps by the listening muse, perhaps by someone else. The point of view in the poem ranges among lst, 2nd, and 3rd persons.

          Sonnets editors routinely emend the “painful warrior” line because it violates the rhyme scheme in Sonnet 25. (Editor Stephen Booth, e.g., changes “...worth” to “...fight”!) In Rune 23, unrhymed, the line works as is. The listening muse may be “painful” for having a brow that is “carved” (5) by “the lines of life” (2), worry lines perhaps triggered by failing looks. The poet does the muse’s “eyes” a good turn (10) by keeping that visage fresh; in the process, Will leaves evidence of “my soul’s imaginary sight” (13)—not just of the muse’s image in the poet’s heart, but also Will’s own poetic imagination.

           The muse may be either Eve-like or Adam-like (6). (He or she is also like Oedipus for having a “carved face.”) Plays on “lines” and a Book of Hours (5) imply that the muse may be “lining” the brow by trying to write. Let me do that, the poet says, with my books. Line 2, advice to the muse and/or the recompositor, is a summary of the poet’s mission—to “repair that life (or leaf).” “Save that” (13) reiterates the same directive.

          Details about money, economics, and coinage—and the opening clue “Thin the conceit of this…” (1)—hint that “the painful [pay-in-full] warrior” is Henry VII, Elizabeth I’s grandfather, as depicted on the sovereign, a “splendid gold coin” (Britannica) worth 20 shillings. Minted in 1489, the coin bore the image of Henry, seated. Until 1546, well into Henry VIII’s reign, the coin showed the elder Henry. Under the son its “worth” declined. No doubt the “old sovereign” was treasured into Shakespeare’s day as a famously worthy coin.
         Henry VII was indeed a “painful warrior,” depicted as tired and anxious looking, with thin hair and bad teeth. As “warrior” he had ended the War of the Roses and founded the Tudor line. His ruthless financial methods, which put a hard squeeze on all creditors, made him, indeed, a “Pay-in-full Warrior.” His “worth” also means the celebrated solvency of his reign. Too, “pain-full”—i.e., full of bread!—is a bilingual joke about Henry VIII’s girth.

          Thus the rune (like many) is a kind of riddle with several “solutions.”

          Southampton, also a military man named Henry, could have imagined himself relevant. And then there’s Aeneas….
My unpublished studies of Will’s part of the More ms. suggest that the runic subtext there similarly plays on coins—the Four Nobles—in an elaborately covert allusion.

          Some likely puns allude to Will’s daughters, Susannah and Judith, plausibly Sue and Judy. “Sue” puns include “Sue, S. Hall...” (2, 3), “S. Hall” (4), and “Sue...” (13), encouraging one to hear, e.g., “Sue, S. Hall, did Helen softly see...,” followed by the run-on pun “Paris” (2-3). Other puns are “Beauty, eternal summer, S. Hall in ode sight” (4) and “Now Sue had God-turned eyes, sorry eyes, haughty, wan” (10). Meanwhile, guides (12) puns on “Judy S.” and allows such puns as “...[the fact] that Judy is my hymn avenges Ovid. Ha...” and “whatsoever stared at Judy’s mime...” (12-13).

          “Hat. guides my moving [...mooing]”(12) encodes Will’s two-edged joke, “Hathaway makes me leave home” and “...inspires these O-filled verses.”

     The pun “Thin/Thick, onset of this [poem] inconstant is to eye” opens the text.

Sample Puns

          1) Th’ hints wan see
          1-2) Then the cunt-seat (seed) hostess joins, unfit Anne tough teases Hall, diddling asses livid; cunt’s t’ end if diocese hold the lines
          2) Ass, offal dead, hell eye; Sue, S. Hall, did he limn softly; fold; leaf [page]; leaf rip; repair fix up, recover, recombine
          2-3) fetid lice rip Harry S.; East Atlas repairs; R.I.P., Harry S. (hairy ass)
          3) age the poet’s era; Sue, S. Hall dim
          3-4) …may be peer silhouette [anachronistic]; witty her agile butt
          4) S. Hall; knot [puzzle]; some marshal
          4-5) So m’ martial knot fades
          5) O, crown ode with thy Hours; O, see our veined wit; my loo’s sour burrow; Ochre (Ogre) you note, witty whores, milieu is sere B-row
          6) Anne S.; And Sue, Roman wert thou first (fairest); serrated (cf. carved [5]); Thomas-ire Shakespeare created           5-7) fair, beruned Sue, Roman wordy, thou First-Created “O”
          6-7) See, read idol, Tommy T., rune low but truly writ (read)
          7) Ol’ Anne [= et] made her (mater) venal “O”—V, a butt—true lyre (…rule your eye); O let meat ruin (mete rune), low butt, “ruley” rite
          8) Ode, Harry S.; Ought hairy ass—our low, beasty self—soar? Why? Sue; war
          9) thin; Ol’ Anne [= et] may be hocus, beaten t’ Hell o’ Cunts
          9-10) unseen “O’s” you hate
        10) you hate God, Turnus, I suffer; In “O” [rune] see what good your rune says, suffer aye, ass, halved one; feud
        11) Th’ pay-in-full lawyer see, muffed forward
        11-12) T’ help Annie S., you’ll worry her, say m’ O’s defer war; fame Ovid for worth t’ lewd Sue aver, fit art
        12) Your Astarte tugged, some Y (why?) moving; T’ eye, lewd sewer (fire) started; mooing; Hat. guides my moving
        13) Southy, Tommy sole see Magi, an airy sight; fight; f--ked; Southy t’ my soul is imaginary sight
        13-14) “An Airy (In Harry) F--k” titled he Dido Pleas; titled he Dido “play femme
        14) tail; hymned Howard bright (buried); to play, see Ham[n?]et hover, top right [t’ be right].

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—TS S BOAOOON TT SI—may encode, e.g., such readings as “T’ ass suborned, ’tis I,” “’Tis Boa Auntie’s ‘I’ [phallic],” “Tea sup, want t’ sigh,” “’Tis S. beau, Auntie, ’tis I,” “T’ ass sapient tease I,” “’Tis ‘sapient’ to say (’tis I),” “Tess’s boon (bone), titties eye,” “Tis bone to tease aye [eye],” “ ’Tis sapient,’tis I,” and “‘Tis his bone, T.T.’s [phallic] ‘I.’”

          The upward codeline— I STTN OOOA O BS ST—allows such readings as these: “Eye Satan—OOOOO—Beast,” “Eye Satan: Away, beast!” “Eye Satan, OO [pictographic eyes], why be sad?” “…web’s saint,” “Is T.T. nobis (knobby, no-B.S.)Saint?” “Is it to know why ‘O’ pissed (why opus)?” “Aye sit and wipe asses[ = code SS], T., ”“Is T.T. Noah or beast?” and “Is T.T. in Wyatt’s st[…anza]?” (code B=8).

          The letterstring ST intriguingly overlays a form of “saint” on the Shakespeare family name cipher that I have deduced—an S seeming to hold a dagger- or spear-shaked T as if by the handle and “shake” it; the pictographic element is clearer in the digraph form of st (with “long s”) common as a printform in Will’s day. Conventionally, I think that ST would have come to mean “[Saint] Shakespeare” in the poet’s always overlaid game, where one meaning never rules out any other. In this acrostic occurs an interesting juxtaposition of this form with TT (for Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent) and with letterstrings suggesting boon, bound, Satan, and beast—along with pictographic oglers in the form of OOOs. (Composers of “eye-music” played similar games with whole notes.)

BOAOOON—suggesting “bone”—is a letterstring conceit for the skinny acrostic. Since an O = a round = a rune, line 10 in the text itself can pun, “In this rune, see what good turns eyes, four eyes, have done.” Such witty topical interplays between the textual lines and the acrostic codeline occur commonly in the Runes.

Noah and beast also interlink here in a way that suggests authorial manipulation of the codestring.

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