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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 26
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Rune 25
Eleventh lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                        Rune 25

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

     Where wasteful, time debated with decay—
     Neither in inward worth nor outward fair—
     And your true rights be termed a poet’s rage.
 4  Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade:
     Him, in thy course untainted, do allow,
     And, by addition, me, of thee defeated
     As any mother’s child, though not so bright,
 8  Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary.
     Who plead for love and look for recompense
     Are windows to my breast (wherethrough the sun
     Is from the book of honor razèd quite)
12 And puts apparel on my tottered loving,
     Which, like a jewel, hung in ghastly night.
     So flatter I the swart-complexioned night.
     Glosses: 1) time suggests meter, and thus poetry; 3) rights: also, rites; 5) Him = Death (see 4), with Him in t... a play on Hamnet (Will’s dead son), and course, on corse (i.e., corpse); 6) And plays on Anne, Hamnet’s mother (see mother’s child in 7); 8) I will puns, “I, Will...”; chary = frugally; 9) Who = Those who, Whoever may; 9) the sun plays on “son,” echoing Him in t... in 5—and on The Son, suggesting Christ (with book of honor implying the Bible); 13) hung: a past-tense verb.

   25. A Jewel Hung in Ghastly Night

     One would spend time and verses unproductively trying to argue with the fact of mortality
     (neither decay nor such wasted time has basic worth or is pleasant to see)
     and my doing so would allow this ceremonial tribute to be called mere poetic madness.
Nonetheless, death shall not brag that you move in his domain;
     rather, allow death to move in your uncorrupted sphere,
     and me along with him, your submissive subject
     like every other mother’s child, though not so brilliant,
  8 carrying your heart, which I, Will, intend to guard so carefully.
     These poems or any voices who plead for love and look for something to compensate decay
      are like windows through which you can see my heart. (Throughout my breast the sun—
      supplanted, perhaps, by a son—is erased in this book that shows whom I honor.)
12 Such voices in effect put raiment on my ragged affection,
     which I have hung in the ghostly night like a jewel.
     Thus I flatter the dark night.


          The poet’s strained conceits may be heard to denigrate his obsequious role and concurrently to flatter the friend, who, having for now conquered death and the world, demands absolute worship. The basic figures that develop motifs of light and darkness and of clothes and personal decoration seem mainly to compare the poet to a lowly page in the muse’s service. Finally the poet’s love—along with this poem expressing it—is like a star or light-catching jewel set against darkness (12). If the pun “Baring thy art…” (8) refers to those “who…look for re-compense [a pun on re-composition with a pen]” (9), then we who are “letting the light in” to this world of the poet’s darkness by revealing his secret poems are like “windows” into his heart, or art.

          Numerous details in the poem allude to that art: It is a “debate” between meter and decadence (1), an ugly waste lacking value (1-2), a ritual to express “a poet’s rage” (3)—with the pun on “rag” echoed by “tottered loving” (12). As the conceit goes, the poem is “tottered” because it is piecemeal and childish. It involves “addition” (6) because its recomposition requires putting pieces together additively (with the poet a “summer”). And it is “de-feeted” (like “time” [1])because its feet don’t work while its parts are disparate. A “ghostly” book, a tabula rasa, this furtive poem is concurrently “char-ry,” sunless, and “swart-complexioned” because it is inky, jetted. In all of this, the “gem” that these black depths foil is the poet’s affection for his muse—and not that figure per se. Thus, as elsewhere in Set II, the poet’s own activity remains his preeminent subject.

          The poem’s interest in appearance begins with “inward” and “outward” (2), proceeds in the puns “rag” and “be ragged”(3-4), and culminates in the line about apparel (12). Those “who… look for recompense”—we recompositors—must “clothe” the poet, who is otherwise “tottered” and piecemeal (12). The couplet images, jewelry and dark skin, continue this conceit.

          As a poor child, ragged and “not so bright,” the poet is like a page or choirboy hoping for favor from his Lord. (The exactly-rhymed couplet insists on the pun “knight.”) Vague allusions to Hamlet, Othello, and the School of Night are at work. The pun on “Hamnet…” (5) is sobering. As wit, the text jokes about decay, “hung” ornaments, a “corse” (corpse), nakedness, abused members, and “baring a hard.” Subtextual puns in 8-9 even offer a new string of Four Evangels: Europ(a?), Jove, Anne, and Luke! The pun “Son” (10) makes the poem seem vaguely sacrilegious, In this underworld setting, Will is in charge, his ingenuousness is feigned, and anything goes.

Sample Puns

         1) W.H. erased full-time debate
         1-2) W., Harry, W. A. Shakespeare [st] full time debateth with deacon; witty Cain eye there (th’ heir); abideth witty Cain; abateth weedy cane; Easy Anne, Eater 2 in inw [W = IN] John, John, John; nor (reversed) rune; Northward is Harry [cf. Hotspur]
         3) Endure terror aye; Judas; endure turgid ass; endure Tower, you rigid ass; Betty armed (bitty army t’) a Poet’s rage
         3-4) Judy’s bitter M.D. aped ass or aging whore, S. Hall
         4) Nor Rune; S. Hall; wand [phallic]
         4-5) death be ragged hound resting his fey, dim eye; Adam eye; John’s shady hymn; wondrous tennis of hate; his shit I mint (meant)
         5) Hymen to his whore; Hamnet high see, our son;…our saint, and dead; Hamnet, high corse untainted; hour faint ended dull, low; see Our Fiend Anne, Dead, Dull “O”; thou undressed John, half-hid
         6) Anne-piety shun, misty; Anne Betty own; Anne debated John, miss thee defeated; Anne debated “I” on me, oft he defeated Ass Annie; End debit
         7) Ass Annie, Mother S., chilled thought; be right, rite (see 3); th’ “O,” knot so bright; ill, dead hound—aught sober I jet          8-9) Baring thy hard, which I, Will, keep, f--k Harry Who? (Harry W.); eye Will Kempe; Europe led four—Jove, Anne, Luke—Fours o’ (force o’) my pen; pee surgery—W.H., O, bled for love
         9) Hope leads our love; loo; lead (cf. windows [10]); Pleiades, our love (see 13-14); fork o’ my pen see
         9-10) sore wreck, homme, pen (phallic) see, a rune; foray—come, pee in sewer
       10) Our W. endows Tommy; A runed “O” set; A runed “O” [cf. rose window] west o’ my bereft W.H.; a rune due west…; Son
       10-11) W., Harry, th’ “rooty” son eyes fair homme t’ help hook “O” fon; our rough (racy) dick you eyed, O fon, erased, quiet
       12) April; red love-inch; putti’s apparel; Anne poots a pear real on my tot, a red, low inch
       12-13) Anne put ass-apparel [i.e., diapers] on my tot, turd-loving Witch…changing gay Shakespeare [st] line 13 Witch like a Jew, Hell see; see you engine ghastly, Knight; jewel (phallic); W.H. aye chilly queue’ll see hung in gay fit, line (lying) I jet
       13-14) gay Shakespeare [st] lineates “O” of laddered hiss
       14) Sue’s ladder [= acrostic]; Sue S., later eye this word-complex John denied; this word’s (thy sword’s) ample, “X” [acrostic, The Cross] John denied [cf. The Crucifixion]; soft uttered his word; election denied

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—WN AN HAABWAIAW S—has an “Anne H.” component that encourages such readings as ”“Win Anne Hab-away, ass,” “Winnow Anne Hate-way [B = phonic 8] ass,” “Win Annie 8 ways,” “Woo Anne, unhappy wages,”and “Winnow Annie 8 ways.” Other potentialities in the codelines are, e.g., “W. (VV = pictographic fangs) a Nun High, abuse,” “When any I eye be wise…,” “Teeth [i.e., pictographic fangs] none, happy W. aye jaws,” “Wend unhappy way, Jews,” “Wend aye in happy way, Jews,” and “Win an Happy Way, Jews.”

         The upward reverse code letterstring—SWAIAWB AAHNAN W—may be read, e.g., “Sweet Onan [signed] W.,” “…VV [= pictographic teeth = ‘eat’],” “Swab (Swap) Anne anew,” “Sway, banana,” “Weighty Anne I knew,” “Sway, jaw, eat Anne anew,” “Sway, Jew Ben (bane) anew (I knew),” “Sue aye I awe, be Anne anew,” and “Sue, aye obey Anne an’ W.”

          The down/up hairpin codestring, one of hundreds of insinuations in Q that Anne Shakespeare was corpulent, suggests, e.g., “When (Wen = Protuberance; Weighin’...) Anne Hathaway is Weighty Anne anew (...I knew).”    

Proceed to Rune 26
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