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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 IX, Runes 113-126: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 117
Return to the Index of Set IX

Rune 116
Fourth lines, Set IX (Sonnets 113-126)

                                 Rune 116

     (Fourth lines, Set IX: Sonnets 113-126)

     Seems seeing, but effectually is out,
     And that your love taught it; this alchemy,
     My most full flame, should afterwards burn clearer,
 4  Or bends with the remover to remove
     Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day.
     We sicken to shun sickness when we purge,
      Still losing, when I saw myself to win:
 8  Unless my nerves were brass or hammered steel
     (Not by our feeling but by others’ seeing)
      Beyond all date, ev’n to eternity,
     They are but dressings of a former sight—
12 Weeds among weeds, or flow’rs with flowers gathered;
     Which proves more short, then, waste or ruining—
      Thy lover’s withering—as thy sweet self grow’st.
     Glosses: 1) Seems seeing = Seeing seems (i.e., Vision is ostensible); but puns on “butt”; pun: “...butt sexually I sought,” “Seams seeing, butt—ass, actually—I sought”; 3) My...flame = My eye, inspiration, passion; 4) Or bends puns, “Orb ends”; the remover = the one who is absent; 5) the line suggests, “To where the beloved is”; 7) pun: “Still loving wen [i.e., a swelling], I foamy ass love to win (...loaf twin)”; 9) others’ seeing = later readers’ recognition, with a pun on “oathers” as oath-bound coterie members; 11) They = my nerves (see 8) or feelings (see 8, 9), punning, “Th’ eye”; 13) Which = This chance for enduring fame; ruining puns on “runing,” i.e., writing runes.

 116. This Alchemy, Thy Lover’s Withering

     Vision seems present, but the eye is blurred and practically blind—tears quench its light—
     and it was your love that taught it how to mix its forms; reactive alchemy also happens
     when my full eye or my passion either burns clearer
  4 or arcs elsewhere, locating the absent one
     whom I am bound and tied to day by day.
     In tearful purgations we make ourselves sick to avoid sickness,
     still feeling loss, still not victorious—though I imagined I would have triumphed by now:
  8 Unless my feelings become hardened into immutable materials
     (not in my own estimation, but according to insights that others have)
     that last eternally,
     they are mere reworkings of things seen earlier, decorations déjà vu that gloss things over,
12 weeds among weeds, flowers picked to mingle with other flowers—
     all observations that prove, then, what brief waste and hidden ruin one may find
     here in your lover’s withering, even while your life grows sweetly elsewhere.


          I use “119” above as the heading for the Rune 116 paste-up to mimick the same “error” in Will’s overt cycle, where Sonnet 116 is “misnumbered” 119. (That sonnet ends, “If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ....”) The “error” is surely self-conscious, one of hundreds of minor blips that Will’s known printing agent Thomas Thorpe (the “T.T.” of the Q dedication and title pages) helped the poet effect during the printing stages of his trickster text.

          Like 115, Rune 116 is an apostrophe to the beloved (2), with Will as “Thy lover” (14). Both texts uses conceit about vision and seem pessimistic about the rune-making activity and what will come of it. “The remover” here is the absent muse, to whom Will feels bound and now turns his eyes (4-5).

           On one level, Will’s “alchemy” (2) is this line-by-line transmutation that shows himself as the “Waster runing” (13). Implicit are the allusive epithets “Winner and Waster” (7, 13), old personifications of providence and improvidence. “Others / ‘oathers’ ” (9) who might confirm Will’s vision of himself as “winner” (7) are initiated readers like us who can “see” beyond the stale conceits that the poet apologizes for. The pun “I saw [i.e., cut, talk] myself tw(a)in” (7) alludes to the “weeds among weeds” (12) that “dress” (11) Will’s Sonnets/Runes.

           Overt ocular terms—”seeing” (1, 9), “saw” (7), “sight” (11)—find subtle reinforcements. Line 1, e.g., about blindness, implies a teary-eyed poet—a self-portrait heightened by “out” (1, see “quenched”); “moist, full” (3, as of tears); and “clearer” (3). “Remove” (4) suggests something in the eye; “purge” (6) hints at weeping; “brass nerves” (8) and “our feeling” (9) allude to sentiment; “dressings of a former [sore, mer] sight” (11) may be handkerchiefs applied to tear-blind eyes; “flow-ers gathered” (12) puns “waters clustered, rushed”; “ruining” (13) plays on “running”; and “withering” (14), as “drying up,” foils “watering.” Lines 11-14 hint at Will’s funeral, a time for tears. The “full flame” that “effectually is out” (1) and that “should…burn clearer” (3) is passion or inspiration but, literally, also the poet’s “eye”—which “bends” (4) because it is orbic and because it “follows” the beloved.

           Details such as “bends” (4), “day by day” (5), and “date…eternity” (10) are parts of a spin-off motif about the sun’s movement, which in turn rationalizes elements about weeds, flowers, a short season, withering, and growing (12-14).

           Scatology and phallic wit link in a riot of “knots,” “I’s,” “flow-ers,” “awls,” “prows,” “oars,” “seams,” length, moistness, bending, removing, sickening, feeling, and “growth.” “Rear-end” puns include these: “Seams seeing, butt (ass actually) is out” (1); “moist fold, slimy fold afterwards be urn: See, leer, err...” (3); and “loosing wind” (7). The mentions of purgation (6) and of “dressings” (11)—suggesting rags—continue the wit. Phallic (and homoerotic) bawdry occurs in “hammered steel” (8) and in such wrap-up puns as “Witch-prow’s my ‘oar’ short, thin. Waist o’er (...tore) you, an inch, / thigh-lover is withering as thy sweet cell, see, growest” (13-14). The puns “awl-come eye” (2) and “awl-bonds” (5) and the bits about “bending” and “removing” (4) are parts of this bawdy pattern.

            Will’s “alchemy” (2) is in one sense his stichic transmutation that shows the “Waster runing” (13). The allusive epithet “Winner and Waster” (7, 13) is implicit.          

           Linked, echoic words
include “sicken,” “loosing,” “ruining,” and “withering” (6, 7, 13, 14); “sickness,” “Nurse” (Q Nerues), and “dressings” (6, 8, 11); and the pairs out / remove (1, 4); bends /bonds (4-5); when / win (6-7); and Still / steel (7-8).

Sample Puns

          1) butt sexually I sought; Seamus, singe bawdy sect-tool
          1-2) see Tully, eyes out and dead; why Isolde ended; eye sultan, “dated”; I Southy ended, your low Tau [Cross] jetted, this all see
          2) Indebted, you related aye Titus; The Tower [Bishop] Laud oded; O, you to codicil come; your lewd “I” you jetted, thistle comey; loo; Anne did hate you, wry Ovid, haughty “thistle”; eye Saul come aye
          2-3) Laud ought Edes’ alchemy mime; …eye Titus, aye, Luke you may maim oft; Hat., you’re lauded, I T.T. hiss, Hall, see (Halsey) you maim
          3) Maim oft fool’s lamest hole, daze turds, burr in ass; my moist Sue’ll flame, S. Hall deft rewards ass; see Lear err
          3-4) foul lady afterward (ward…) suborns Lear error
          3-5) be you urn, sailor, or bend sweet there, more to re-mow you, W.H
          4) witty rim overt; Ore; O’er; Whore bends, Witty Harry, Moor, tore m’ “O”
          4-5) rhyme averter mortal be (…bonds deux Tommy typed aye)
          5) W., Harry, to awl bonds dough, timid “I” bitty; W., Harry, to Hall bonds, to Tommy, day by day; W.H. a riddle be
          5-7) Tommy…we f--k in two—fon vice in Aswan, wipe your chest till loving W.H. enough awe
          6) We f--k a knight O fon, f--k an ass, W.H. anew purge; shun sick anus when we purge; sick Enos
          6-7) eye sick, nice swan, whip her chest; we purge ass till loo sing whinnies; wen eye foamy; your jest ill, loo sanguine, I saw
          7) W.H. in Esau missal set Owen; Still loving W., Hen., “I” foamy is hell’s twin
          7-8) two eye nun, laugh (lass), many rue, swear, bray, fear Ham
          8) Unless Minerva swear, bare ass, O, ram-merd is teal
          8-9) our hammered fit, alien ode, bares alien gibbet; fear emir, Ed, stealing aught; an ode bares Eli (Ely); brass fear, merdy steel know
          9) Knot-buyer, see Helen; Not by arras, alien gibbet Bede here is seeing
          9-10) Seine (Zion, Anne) championed Hall; Note-buyer, feeling gibbet, bide here, as feeing being; Knot buyer, feeling beauty, bide here, ass, seeing, beyond all date, Eve, into eternity
        10) Hall’d attune daughter, night (knight)
        10-11) hairy butt drive, inches of a farmer assy jet; John, Doll “did” you in twat, urn eyed, yet hairy; nigh “tidey” Aruba drift, soft aye is our mer
        11-12) eye Tweed, salmon jetties, our flow-ers; a farmer f--ked witty ass among weeds
        11-13) Sight witty ass, a man, Judy S., our flower, is with slow arse gathered which proves Moor short, in waist, whore ruining
        12) Witty salmon, Jew, eat, sir; Witty Solomon; flower sweet, slurs, God heard; flowers (scatological) cf. lines of text, slurs; Witty Samoan Jew, Ed soars low or Southy slurs get heard; witty semen Judy sours
        12-13) at Hardwicke peer, office moor
        13) short, thin waster, ruin inch
        13-14) farting waster ruining thy loo, arse wittier, engassed
        14) T’ hell, a verse withering: Aye Southy’s weedy self grow’st; Eye Southy’s witty cell, say “Roast!” Thy lore, sweet wit hearing, gusty Swede [i.e., T.T.], see leaf grow fit; gusty sweet offal, cigarro whiffed; Swede

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—SAM OWWS V NBT WWT—suggests such decodings as these: “Sam owes you nibbed wit,” “Same O’s you N.B., to wit…,” “Sea, moisten Betty wet,” “Samson be taut,” “Sam owes: Sue, N.B., to wit…[legalese],” “Is a mouse innate wit? [B=8],” “Ass, eye m’ ‘O,’ son, be it wet,” “Is A.M, O, sun-beat, witty,” “Say ‘Moo!’ W.S.…,” “Samoa-son betwat (be too wet),” “See moist ‘V,’ N.B. twat,” “Same house…,” and “Is a mouse Hun-bait witty?”

           The upward codeTWWT B NV SWWOMA S—suggests, e.g., “Taut be nervous womb, ass,” “Too wet be a new Sue womb, ass,” “…be new swami-ass,” “Twat be new Sue-womb-ass,” “…wit be new, Sue amaze,” “T[witty be new Sue]HOMAS,” “Taut (Taught) be nerves….” “To wit be noose o’ maze,” “Too wet be an ooze o’ maize,” and “T[...wit be in you, Sue...]HOMAS,” the last seeming perhaps to put Will’s daughter Susanna in the coterie as Will envisions it. (“Thomas” points to T. Thorpe and the biblical doubter.)

           The down/up hairpin code, like the shorter ones explored above, highlights TWWT, a bawdy palindrome suggesting “twat ” but also encoding “toad,” “taut/taught,” “To wit,” and “Two T.”—insinuating “T.T.” Full codeline readings of this doubled code include, e.g., “Sam owes you innate taut twat—eaten vice, womb-ass” and, possibly, “Samoa son be taught wit, be new Swami S.” (? see OED). Reader/players can also explore the up/down codeline variant.

Proceed to Rune 117
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