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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 I, Runes 1-14: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 7
Return to the Index of Set I

Rune 6:
` Sixth lines, Set I (Sonnets 1-14)

                         Rune 6

     Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel
     Where all the treasure of thy lusty days
     Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry—
 4  The bounteous largess given thee to give
     To hideous winter—and confounds him there,
     Which happies those that pay the willing loan,
     Resembling strong youth in his middle age
 8  By unions married. Do offend thine ear
     That thou no form of thee hast left behind—
     That ’gainst thyself thou stick’st not to conspire.
     Without this, folly, age, and cold decay,
12 Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
     Find no determination; then you were
     Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind.
10) Thou stickest not:… = “you don’t show unwillingness…” (OED), smacking of wit about stickiness; 11) this = your replication in an offspring (see 9); 12) Erst = formerly; 13) then you were = “in that case (i.e., without an heir) you would be…”; 14) the triplet series shows formal parallelism with the one in 11.

     6. The Fire That May Burn Out

     Your lighted fire burns itself up, feeding on its own fuel
     at a prime stage during which the whole endowment of your vivacious sensuality
     haughtily scorns the kind of tilling that productive husbandry requires—
  4 that large gift that nature gave you to show
     hideous winter who’s boss—and thus your potent treasure blocks productivity and confuses the issue,
     a fact enjoyed vicariously by those of us who “Willingly” subsidize your exploits
     at stages in our own lives when the strength of our youth has hit middle age
  8 and is reined in by marriages. Anyway, you should listen when I remind you
     that you have not left yourself behind in any form
     and that you don’t seem reluctant to work against your own ends.
     Unless you replicate yourself, all of the foolishness, age, and destructive cold
12 that once overshadowed and froze out the mass of men
     will go on unchecked; in that eventuality, you would in effect be
     pointing each one warming at your fire back out away from shelter to deal alone with nature’s threatening elements.


          In general, as I’ve said, the first 14 visible Sonnets in Shakepeare’s 1609 Quarto (the 14 that comprise Set I in Q’s scheme of numbers) encourage a handsome, unnamed male friend to marry and “increase.” The group of lines that generates Rune 6—all the 6th lines in Set I—predictably asserts a variant on the same theme. Whether the “friend” the poet addresses is his patron (the Earl of Southampton), his son-in-law (Dr. John Hall in Stratford), or someone else, Will offers both serious “advice” and broadly suggestive coterie wit aimed at an unknown readership.

          At the heart of this vivid poem is the conceit that the friend is a fire at which people can warm themselves in winter. Without renewal the fire will go out and warmers will be thrown back into a state suggestive of primitive times before the advent of fire. The friend’s need to sire progeny is again a main theme, though “leaving behind a form” of him (9) can be effected, too, by the surrogate endeavor of these texts. Thus the poet acts providentially for the improvident friend—who, ironically, has remained a hot topic of scholarly discussion but also nameless these four centuries. The poet chides the friend, but many clues suggest that his dressing down is lighthearted, part of an entertaining coterie game.

        “Husbandry” (3)—which connects imagery about agriculture and economics—means “domestic economy” (OED) but also denotes a husband’s kind of “tillage.” In fact, the poem is full of phallic innuendo, housing an implied figure of a lighted knot or log (1; pun 10) that the self-feeding fire of passion (maybe onanism) consumes. Besides “bounteous largess” (4), other provocative terms include “lusty” (2), “tillage,” “husbandry” (3), “strong youth” (7), and even “pointing” (14). “Will” (6)—always a pun on the poet’s name in the Q lines—itself suggests carnal desire (OED 1603). The latent image of a bull “covering” his herd “from heat” (12) is tangentially apt.

          As in the Sonnets, meanings often emerge in the Runes that are not strictly syntactic or fully logical. Editor Stephen Booth, in his edition of the Sonnets (Yale UP, 1977) has noted how a given sonnet may bring together seemingly unrelated images. Now that we understand the overlaid Sonnets/Runes linkage, we can see why and how such disconcerting mixes have always occurred. Diction here is typically ambiguous, and “floating” syntax lets some lines be statements or questions.
Despite the friend-berating tone and comic bawdry, the picture in the last lines is touching: Lonely, disappointed creatures leave the former refuge of a dead fire to wander back out into the cold. A punning allusion to Eden in “without this foliage, Anne could [sic in Q] decay”(11) jokes about a figleaf (and hence “cold”) and links up with the motif of creatures being driven out into a hard world for having wasted a boon and failed at “the tillage of…husbandry.” (Jokes about Will and Anne—and John and Sue Hall—crop up prolifically in the gamy letterstrings of the Q lines. Plays on “husbandry,” “married,” and “Willing” underscore the usual “Anne” jokes.) Loosely related to “husbandry” as agriculture, imagery about weather pervades the poem.

          A studied cluster of economic imagery—galvanized by the term “willing loan” (6)—includes “substantial” (1); “treasure” (2); “bounteous largess,” “given” and “give” (4, with an eyepun on “Jew” in Q’s giuen); “left behind” (9, implying a legacy); “gainest” (10); and the such puns in “determination” (13) as “debtor men aye […many] shun / debtor-men I shun.”

         The two triplet series—folly, age, and cold decay in 11, thunder, rain, and wind in 14—are formally echoic.

         Many details joke about the runegame, which is to some degree self-generating and is ample, perverse, and interlinked.

Sample Puns

          1) Seedest Shakespeare (Seed fit), thy leg hits ass lame with self-substantial fuel
          1-2) if you be Shakespeare, Anne (tee! Auntie), eye Hall, Sue Hall, W., Harry—all the treasure of thy loo-sty days (dies)
          2) “W [= IN],” here (hear) “Hall,” that reassures thy love
          2-3) day is deaf t’ Anne S. that I lay, Jeez!
          3) deaf t’ Anne, Southy, till a cheese; thy huss be Anne dry
          4) O, you, Anne, show ass, large ass, given thee to give; largess (phallic); Jew
          4-5) Judy O [= the round] hid…; to Judy “O” hideous W. enter, Anne confounds him there
          5) son-sound, is Ham[n]et here?
          6) Witch
          6-7) Will-inch glowing, / Resembling strong youth; those that paid you ill eye in glow and erase ’em
          7-8) in his middle age John [= In.] H. is middle age, / By union is married
          8) ear (pudendal); deux, dieu
          8-10) Th’ Anne, “eared” Hathaway in “O” [rune] is whore misty—half tail, assed behind that gainest thy assy leaf
        10) That gay Anne Shakespeare, this elf thou, Shakespeare eye; see kissed knot, too, cunt-spire
        11) Widow you, T.T., hiss, allege Anne dies old; foliage; Without this foliage [i.e., these leaves], Anne could (Q) decay
        11-12) Anne dies old: Decay, witch, erased from heady diet
        12) See Anne, o’ piety hard
        12-13) W.H. I see here, Shakespeare from head (form hid) did see Anne, O pity her, descend no debtor ; “O” Peter dignified
        13-14) my Anne aye shunned Henry, pointing to witch’s thunder, rain and wind
        14) rune-end windy; reign Anne windy; “aegis’d”, you end a rune, end to end; Pointing to aegis, the under-rune end windy

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic code—F WD TT WR BT TWW F P—suggests, e.g., “Food, Rabbett, whiff—pee,” “Food to rabbit, tough pea,” “If wood titty were bit, tough pay,” “Feud, war bit—tough pay,” “Food, ’twer bitty, whiff pee,” “Forward t’ war be two-wife fop,” and “If wet (wed) titty were, butt, too, half up.” (The Rabbett jokes may be pointed toward a member of the King James Bible committee of that name.)

          The upward codeP F W W TT BR WTT DWF—suggests such potentialities as “Pee of witty brute deaf (…brute: Dive!),” “Pee few, T.T. bare, wet, deaf (dove),” “Pee of W. wet bare wedded (bare-witted) wife,” “Pee feud be rude to dwarf,” “Pee feud brew, T.T. dive (dove),” and “Feud brooded wife.”

          The codeline’s P and TT suggest a urinary joke about Thomas Thorpe. The letter P in a codeline may stand for thorn, archaic TH. The codeline W’s always have pictographic potential—e.g., as fangs or dugs. Numerous alphabetic symbols also may have meaning as Roman numerals. Fs and Ps may possible be musical dynamic markings.

Proceed to Rune 7
Return to the Index of Set I
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