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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 IV, Runes 43-56: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

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Rune 55
Thirteenth lines, Set IV (Sonnets 43-56)

                         Rune 55

     (Thirteenth lines, Set IV: Sonnets 43-56)

     All days are nights to see till I see thee,
     Receiving naughts by elements so slow;
     This told, I joy but then no longer. Glad
 4  As thus, mine eyes’ due is their outward part,
     Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight,
     And even thence thou wilt be stol’n, I fear;
     To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws
 8  (For that same groan doth put this in my mind).
     Since from thee going he went wilful slow,
     Blessèd are you whose worthiness gives scope;
     In all external grace you have some part.
12 And so, of you, beauteous and lovely youth
     So—till the Judgment, that yourself arise
     As—call it winter, which being full of care.
     Glosses: 3-4) pun: “Glad aye is (...Gladys...) th’ huss, my Annie S., dusty her outward part”; 5) Or, if puns, “Arise”; 6) And and wilt pun on Anne, Will; 8) that same groan puns, “that same G-row [i.e., line 7], Anne...”; groan puns, “G-row end,” pointing to line 7, “Row G” (see line note 53.8); 9) thee and he are both playfully ambiguous; pun: Will-ful; 11-12) pun: “tanned, soft you be, odious and lovely...”; 13) So—till puns on Sue, subtle; 14) As—call it puns, “A scalded...,” generating an oxymoron.

     55. Call It Winter

     Until I see you, all days look like nights to me,
     the recipient of nothings, in tiny increments;
     this fact tallied, I am at that point no longer happy. Equally
  ecstatic, my eyes have nothing to look at by day except their own lenses
     or else, in sleep, can only picture you in my imagination,
     and I’m afraid I’ll find you taken away there too.
     You have every legal right to leave poor me
  (for the mournful thought of your absence reminds me of this too).
     Since Will left you, intentionally but regretfully,
     you’ve been blessed with a range of worthiness that inspires a poet,
     partaking of every outward grace.
12 Thus, given your nature and absence, my young friend, as beautiful and lovely
     as I’ve said, until the Judgment when you come back in the flesh (like Christ or spring)
     to establish absolute standards of worthiness, let’s call it winter, a season full of burdens.


        To anyone who can temporarily disregard its playful subtexture, the poem may seem a lovely lament or prayerful meditation, with interlocked figures that describe Will’s depressed mood. Day is paradoxically night (1), eyes miss seeing the unnamed friend daily, and even the mind’s eye view of the friend may be “stol’n” (4-6). The poet has no legal claim (7), and the friend’s absence is like winter (12-14). Lines 2 and 9 are echoic, both ending in “slow.” (Two other lines close with “part.”)

        Reinforcing the bleak mood are “nights” and “naughts” (playful echoes), “groan,” and “Winter.” Motific clusters, including puns, dwell on legalisms (e.g., “fight,” “stolen,” “fear,” “laws,” “worthiness,” “annul” [pun 11], and “judgment”) and on economics (e.g., “All,” “receiving,” “naughts,” “due,” “part,” “poor,” “gives,” and “huge mint” [pun 13]).

         Evidence in nearby Rune 53 hints at a Christmas back in Stratford and suggests a February composition date, and certain puns here also refer to the holidays and suggest a seasonal context for composition. Lines 1-2, e.g., pun, “Holiday serenades to settle a city: Receive engine odd, subtle...,” and 3-4 encode an ambiguous family scenario: “...the Noel owe [acknowledge], in church Lady S., (...late aye is) th’ huss, my Annie S. does tear out... ( Annie S. dues t’ heir owed).” The last, parenthetical reading might mean that Anne attends church to honor her dead son, Hamnet. Line 3 may also be decoded “Th’ hissed, old debut, thin Noel, O, in church led (...laid).”

         The transition between octave and sestet typically allows choices, with the pronouns “Thee” and “he” (9) ambiguous: Thus 8-11 may be 1) flatteries aimed at the friend, 2) joking self-compliments heightened by the pun “willful slow,” or 3) aside-thoughts about Christ. Or “he” may be a male suitor who makes Will jealous. In any case, the rationalizing sestet “blesses” the “youth,” likening him to spring and the returning Christ in a segment of “biblical” language the starts “Blessèd are you….”

         The pun “willful” (9) signals namewit including “Anne/Will” puns in line 6, as And and wilt. The elements “In all” (11) imply a covert address naming Will’s son-in-law: “Blessed are you…, / John Hall, a cross [= x] t’ earn…” (10-11). In 12-13, So puns on “Sue” in apposition to “beauteous and lovely youth,” suggesting Susanna Shakespeare Hall, Will’s daughter. Q’s string ...hat y... (13) encodes “Hathaway”: One reading is, “Subtlety eye, Huge Mint Hathaway, our fell [terrible] Pharisee.” Another is “Subtlety huge, my Entity Hathaway....”

         Typically, lines here house gamy puns of all sorts: e.g., “...heresy avenge not” (1-2); “Sense…went willful slow”(9); “In awl, external grace, you have ‘foam[y] part’ ( have foe, maybe hard)” (11); and “A scalded winter…” (14). “Awl…part” (11) echoes “outward part” (4), amid other phallic puns—e.g., “‘I’ joy, but thin no longer” (3), “thou wilt” (6), “groan/grown” (8), “yourself arise” (13), and plays on “flow” (2, 9). Q14 ends with the eye-pun “...f care.”

         One full line-pun in 14 is “A scalded winter, which being solace sere (...sorry).” An alternative is “...which be unjoyful ‘O’ [= round, rune] scary.” Line 14 opens with the pun “Ass, call it wen t’ err...,” connecting the wit here about the archaic runic (or futhark) “W,” wen, Will’s initial, with Rune 54, where part of the humor depends on this pun.

         The “resurrection” conceit, phallically loaded, also has the hidden Runes in mind. Plays about the Runegame include “awl daze”(1), about a drilling instrument, and “sense…went willful slow” (9). “Naughts,” “slow elements” (2), “they sleep” (5), and “thou wilt be stol’n [gone]” (6) point to the Runes, while “their outward part” (4) suggests the Sonnets. “Same, grown” (8) suggests duplication, and “some groaned oath put this in my mind” (8) may allude to secrecy in the coterie. The opening of 3 encodes “Thistle...,” suggesting a bristly riddle, while lines 7-8 encode, “Two-leaf, poor rhyme thou hast, the strange (’ Shakespeare [= st, the name cipher] ring,...) thistle awes forty heads, a Mega-rune....” Lines 10-11 encode, “Eight [=B=8] laugh at a ruse worthy enough, give ass his copy, John Hall....” “Groan...” (8) puns on “G-row [i.e., line 7], Anne doth put this in my mind....”

         The innocent-looking term “pict-ure” (5) shows how deeply into the dark one can pursue the poet’s tiny flickers: The houses of the barbaric Picts were underground (see OED), while a “pick” is also a hardened dirt speck in a hollow of type. The joke in “‘O’ rifty is…” (5) may be that the buried “pick-ures” clog the “O’”—which are “receiving naughts” (2). The “I” will “joy” (3) in this minimalist’s context because, as a straight-line typepiece, it can’t get clogged. Numerous such plays in Q suggest mental interchanges with T.T., Thomas Thorpe, Will’s known printing agent and (we can now see) the man who must have helped him see his stratagem into printed form with jot-and-tittle details intact. “‘O’-rift has a ‘pitty’ pick t’ ruin ms. [that] I jet” is a typographical joke that Thorpe would have understood.

Sample Puns

         1) A lady serenade, too subtle; fetal, eye Southy; Holiday serenades to settle a city
         2) Raise Eve-engine, aye you jet, she’ll mend; bile; Race avenge, notice Hell amends foe; notice belly, men,’tis so; in “O,” jet subtle, men, ’tis Oslo
         2-3) lotus; Sue’s ludus
         3) Thistle eye; Th’ hissed, old début, thin Noel, O, in church led; Jew-beauty; th’ “I’s” told [penises measured], eye joy, beauty anal; jerk, lad; old Egypt, then, no longer; Io; button
         3-4) latticed house m’ Annie is due 4 Ass’d huss, m’ Annie S., dusty her outward part [cf. pudendal hair]; dusty Herod warty, part
         4-5) war depart, erase th’ eisell [i.e., vinegar]
         5) Orestes leaped high; petty Pict, your enemy, fight; a petty picture: enemies fight
         5-6) Rhine-Miss I jet, and Devon then see
         6) Undoing th’ unsubtle tup is to Linus eerie; “To be” is to lines eerie; towel t’ bestial nursery
         6-7) fertile Eve bore me, though you halved history
         7) in jet, thistle awes forty, ’tis a meager one
         7-8) thou hast the strength of philosopher t’ Hat.; Two-leaf poor, reamed “O,” you halved th’ Shakespeare Rune G [cf. line 7], th’ “O” flaws farted, eye ass, a meager one
         8) Forted (Farted) is a Megarune doughty; Farted fey macaroon dough “pooty” is in my mind; doughty puta is (puttis) in my mind
         8-9) this enemy man descends from thee, John, Jew; poots amend, sense
         9) join Jew and Will; John joined Will, solace low
         9-10) you’ll syllable laugh at, a ruse
         9-11) Going, he went willful slow, Blessed, arose, Worthy enough Jew escaping all, In all external [X = a Cross] Grace you have some part (…half saw me apart)
       10) laugh at a ruse worthy enough, give us a copy
       10-11) copy I an “awl,” external grace you have, foamy part
       11) gray sea you have foamy; you have, foe, map art
       11-12) foamy pee hardened, saucy; hard and deaf oaf you be, ought I owe you, Sandell, awfully odd?
       12) odious Anne, dull oval
       12-13) Anne, Sue owes you beauty; the tower of hell see arise (airy is); show sandal of Lydia, this odd, ill thud germane; Sandell, of loud subtlety
       13) tilt hide, German T.T., at your ass elf arise; Subtle, the huge Minted Ewe [cf. the Golden Calf] arise; liver I see
       13-14) eye fiasco, lady; arise, a scaly twin [cf. Hamnet] t’ rouge, being’s a loss airy
       14) Hall, “I’d” John [W = IN], enter witch, be inch-fool, “O” f--ker! A scald(ed) winter; Ass, see awlèd (allied) wen t’ rouge, be inch sallow f--ker; we enter (inter) witch; Ass, see Hall, “I’d” t’ enter W. H., each being fool, O f--k Harry!

Acrostic Wit

        The downward acrostic codeline—ARTA OAT FS BIAS A—suggests such readings as these: “Art aye ought office be, I assay,” “Eye her twat, fist Bessie,” “Arty oat-fist busy,” “Aye red eye oat-fist busy,” “Aye ready odes sate eyes aye [F=S],” “Our tidy office busy,” “Art eye,’08, of ass busy,” and “A red aorta (OED 1594) of ass be I, I say”—the last bit of medical wit likely aimed at John Hall, a physician.

        The upward codelineA SAI B SFT A O A TRA—may encode references to Will’s granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall (born 1608), such as, e.g., some of these readings: “A sigh (Isaiah) be soft, away, teary,” “As I eat [B=8] ass fit, I odor eye,” “Ass, aye be saved, eye oat wry,” “As I Bess fed, I weighed her, aye,” “Easy Bess is [F=S] tottery,” “I see Bess is [F=S] tottery,” “I say Bess is daughter aye,” “Assay ‘I,’ be soft 8 wry,” “Easy be soft twat wry,” and “Easy 8, soft twat, awry (array).”

        Up and down, the palindromic letterstring TAOAT suggests “twat” but can also be decoded “tight,” “tidy,” “tide,” “taut,” “taught,” and “Deity.”

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