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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 28
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Rune 27
Thirteenth lines, Set II (Sonnets 15-28)

                          Rune 27

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

     And all in war with time for love of you,
     To give away yourself keeps your self still:
     But were some child of yours alive that time—
 4  So long as men can breathe—or eyes can see
     Yet, do thy worst, old time, despite thy wrong!
     But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
     Let them say more that like of hearsay well.
 8  Presume not on thy heart, when mine is slain!
     O learn to read what silent love hath writ;
     Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art.
     Then happy I that love and am beloved.
12 Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee.
     Low thus by day my limbs, by night my mind;
     But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer.
      Glosses: 1) time puns on meter (and on Tommy, likely Will’s printing agent Thomas Thorpe); 5) despite (Q dispight) = set at nought (v.), a thing scorned (sb.); 6) she = time (1, 5); 8) heart = art (routine pun); 13) Q Loe = Low, Lo; Loe thus by day puns on “Ludus [L. game, joke] bitty”; 14) But day... puns on Beauty, Body, Bawdy; Q sorrowes (long s) is an eyepun on furrows, i.e., lines.

     27. Time Pricked Thee Out (What Silent Love Hath Writ)

     Now, with each day a struggle to write poems showing my love for you,
     giving you up (in these buried texts) is a way to keep you—immobile, perpetually.
     If only some child of yours were alive whom time
  4 or men might look on as long as people go on living,
     even up to the time of this present reading—then, old time, you might do your worst, and that wrong could be contemptuously disregarded.
     Now, because time selected and equipped you for female pleasures,
     we’ll leave it at that and let those who like to gossip expand on the subject in specific detail.
  8 Don’t let your future be contingent on my affection, especially once I’m dead—and given that these texts themselves are buried.
     But do learn the art of reading the inaudible things written down here by one who loves you.
     Artfully accomplished readers, even to the present day, still lack this skill, and need it.
     After you learn this, I who love and am beloved will be happy.
12 Then I can dare to boast out loud of my love for you.
     Notice how, day or night, I now seem depressed and secretive;
     each day merely extends my sorrows as these serial compositions proceed.


          Another in Set II about the poet’s work as a loving writer hoping for the muse’s immortality, Rune 27 asserts that Will’s stratagem is at work, assuring the auditor fame through painful and as yet unperceived art—runic tributes that “silent love hath writ.” Lines 3-5 echo the main theme in Set I, procreation as a means to immortality, but the possibility here seems hypothetical, and women—needed vehicles for procreation—come off as silly (6-8) and as expediencies at best.

          The sestet offers the poet’s alternative to talky women: a silent man who writes. The focus of Set II on the role of the poet persists in this closing section.

          The poem is thematically tighter than it may seem. At first the poet struggles with time (1) over the friend. Partly because “old time” is a “she” (5-6), the fight becomes more general as “men” have their breaths threatened (4), if not their eyes. Imagined females, loud talkers full of platitudes, become the poet’s antagonists: They “say more” and mouth “hearsay,” while he, the poet, Will, writes silently and artfully (7-10).

          The military conceit (1) continues in “do thy worst” and “thy wrong” (5) and resolves the octave at “slain” (8); the couplet restates the notion of a love-motivated struggle with time—with “limbs” (13) hinting at battle carnage. Line 14 fits the idea of military siege (or torture by “drawing”) with the final phrase, “draw my sorrows longer,” echoing “So long as men can breathe” (4), and with “draw” suggesting “taking in breath.” Other soldierly details are “furloughs” (1, pun), “do thy worst” (5), “cunning” (10), and “dare to boast” (12).

          Craftily paired terms—parallels, contrasts, or echoes—include “thy heart” and “their art” (8, 10); loue (Q1, 9, 11, 12) and Loe (13); doe and Loe (12, 13); “alive” and “slain” (3, 8); “hear” and “silent” (7, 9); and “child”/ “men”/ “women” (3, 4, 6).
          As usual, delvers into the Runes who prefer a high-minded Bard will be bothered here. Expert critics such as Eric Partridge and Stephen Booth note phallic bawdry in the term “pricked thee out.” Though line 6 at its most innocent means “Time selected you to please women,” the “pricked out” (6) muse is a notably endowed male. The bawdy context invites us to hear “low…my limb [i]s” (13) as a punning insinuation that the speaker himself is not just tired or subtle but also well endowed—or flaccid, or all of the above! As usual, “eyes” (and “I’s,” always potentially phallic pictographs) add suggestive texture. Sexual bawdry also includes pudendal or anal puns such as “well” (7) and “awl-urn torrid (...too red)” (9). More off-color puns are these: “So long as men can ‘bare it,’ whores can see it (...feed)” (4-5); “Still, butt were foam-chilled of your saliva’d, haughty mass” (2-4); “butt sins vapory” (6); and “rheumy furrows” (14). “Heresy well” (7), an anal or pudendal metaphor, is also a conceit for the irreligious runes. (“Well” was a standard pudendal pun in the Renaissance.)

          Though “O” in the Runes, I think, can be a pictographic pudendum or anus, it also routinely means the Rune itself, as in the directive “‘O’ learn to read, what silent love hath writ” (9). (An “O” is a “round” is a rune in the poet’s equation.) The poet advises auditors, including us, to “learn to read” the Runes—collections of “low limbs” (13) that are like mangled children (see lines 3ff.), surrogates for those the self-enamored friend needs to bring to life.

Sample Puns

          1) Anne (opposing Sue’s marriage [1-2]); awl (phallic); all in Hall, John; India; End, Hall, John, war witty, Tommy furloughs you; foe; realize
          1-2) feud
          2) To Jew aware of elf, keep your ass-elf still; Jew aye wears leaf [cf. Adam]; keep, Sue [Q syo], yourself still; fiddle; Talk half-way
          2-3) feel sick, a piss, you refill self till butt were foamy, chilled affair
          3-4) Beauty were foe, Magi led hosiers, a livid hat I miss; Bawdy we reform, child o’ sewer salivated t’ “I” me, solon gay semen (seamen) can breathe; aye livid Hat., eye m’ ass
          4) gas men (..m’ Anne) can breathe; Thor (adder) eyes can see; seaman, see a neighbor; Houris
          4-5) So long. Aye, seaman, see Anne, breathe her ass, see Anne S. eat dough (…seed “O”)
          5) Yet doughty were Shakespeare [st] old; Yet doughty wars told Tommy deaf, pity thy wrong; pity W.-rune; raw inch; yet doughty, wharf’d, old Tommy
          5-6) T.T., arrange butt fancy, vapor I seek; Rune G. (wrong,) bawdy sense
          6) Beauty fine see of a Paris kitty out of, O, Rheims, the leisure; “O” rhymes; fancy fiber I seek; sick; prick T.T. out
          6-7) th’ [= archaic thorn, p] leaf [page, “life”] you relay t’ Ham, fey, mort
          7) Helen [et = “and”]; Hat.’ll I kiss, her assy well; amour’d, Hat. likes heresy
          8) Peer, if you my knot untie—our twin—m’ Annie is slain; Perfume; knot; art; on thy hard way, enema nice, fill Anne
          8-9) Eisell [i.e., Vinegar] Annie, O, learn to read
          9) W.H. ate silly end low; silent, low Hath-awry; loo; O, Lear, knight, O read O; “Redoubt,” silent, low, Hath. writ; urn torrid
          8-10) when m’ Annie is feeling “O,” leer into red twat, silent, low, Hath. redded “I’s”
          9-10) Lent, low ova, threaded eyes
        10) cunt-inch; th’ heir (air); Ye tease this cunt, inch—wand, too; gray cedar arid; t’ Grey said Harry, “Our T.T. (titty) unhappy eye t’ addle you.”
        11) pity Addle-way, Ann, Dam Bloody; eye windy, ample Ovid
        11-12) Thin, happy “I,” that loving damn bloody thin maid; enemy
        12) Tee! Hen. my idea read; Thin maid [Sue?], eye ready “O,” boast how I do love thee; bossed; be “O” a fit huddled; foamy head
        13) Ludus [L. play, game, sport] bitty, my lie-ms. buy, knight, my mind; I’m supine, I jet, mime end; Betty; hymn amend; Limeys
        14) Bodied oath; D-row; my four rows; furrows; Sue-rows; Sue arose; Sue-errors; ms. or row is longer; dallied Rome is o’er, O whistle and jeer; daily t’ Rome ye four row

Acrostic Wit

         The 14-character acrostic in each rune in Q forms a kind of independently ambiguous mini-puzzle to be “decoded.” A reader/ player learns to read the code flexibly: B, e.g., may mean “8,” both the number and the phonic element. Thus AT B... can stand for “88” and A TB S can encode “A tight ass....”

        The downward acrostic codeline here—AT B SYBL POYTT L B—can be read to mean, e.g., “I., too busy, be El (Le) Poet t’ pound (t’ Libbie, Lib),” 88 sibyl-poet lip [= kiss (OED 1604)],” “BB [= Baby...] simple puddle be”“…syllable (simple) puzzle…,” “A tub’s y’ boil-pot delight,” “A tight, simple boy T.T. laid [B = 8],” “…T.T.’ll eat,” “A tea, busy be lip, idle be….” and “A tight sibyl body delight” (i.e., A T-8 SYLB POY-T T-LB). Because “88” recalls the 1588 defeat of the Spanish Armada (much the way “9/11” has meaning today), “88 sibyl-puddle (...bottle; simple battle) be,” is one witty reading.

here is ...SYBL POYTT..., encoding, e.g.,“sibyl-poet” (i.e., “witch-poet”), “simple poet,” and “simple boy, T.T. [i.e., Thomas Thorpe, Will’s known printing agent].”

         The upward reverse code—B LTTY OPLBYS BTA—suggests, e.g., “Billed job’ll buy S. 80,” “Bill, T.T., ye ope (yes, 80), pound y’ ass, beat ‘I’,” “Be Lady O. polite—yes Betty,” “Be laddie-O plied, Y [groin] is bitty,” “Bloody ‘O’ plied ye, ass bitty,” “8 let table, bias bitty eye,” “Built table by S. bitty,” “Built table, ye supped aye,” “Be Lady o’ pee, Libbie is, Betty,” and “Be Lady Opal, Bess Betty (bitty).”           

          Another reading is “Bloody ‘O’ [round, rune] played [plied] wise 80 [Betty]”—that is, e.g., “Eighty ‘wise’ players tackled this bloody rune.” “Betty” may be Will’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall, born 2/21/1608. If so, the joke suggests she’s a prodigy, “playing” her grandpa’s runes.

          The down/up hairpin suggests “8 be simple: the 8-pound bill, T.T., ye owed, pounds 8 to eye,” “88 is y’ bill, poet’ll be laddie (puta’ll be lady) up late, labia’s bitty.”


Proceed to Rune 28
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