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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 VI, Runes 71-84: Texts and Comments
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 76
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Rune 75
Fifth lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 75

     (Fifth lines, Set VI: Sonnets 71-84)

     Nay, if you read this line, remember not
     (Unless you would devise some virtuous lie)
     In me thou seest the twilight of such day
 4  When thou reviewest this. Thou dost review
     Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon....
     Why write I still all one, ever the same,
     The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
 8  Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing!
     I grant, sweet love, thy lovely argument:               
     But since your worth wide as the ocean is,
     Your name from hence immortal life shall have.
12 Thou art as fair in knowledge as in hue,               
     And therefore have I slept in your report;
     Lean penury within that pen doth dwell.
     Glosses: 1) Nay puns on Neigh; re-member not puns on “reconstitute [the] riddle”; 3) In me...seest puns on “enemy thou seized”; Q such is always a bawdy eyepun on “f--k”; 7) wrinkles puns on tricks, moral stains; 9) grant puns on grunt; thy...argument refers sarcastically to the “neigh” of 1; 10) But since = Only because; 13) have I slept puns on “halves leapt”; 14) penury = poverty, stinginess; that pen puns on “the boundaries of your report [see 13]—that is, this poem.”

     75. Lean Penury

     No, if and when you read this line, don’t remind yourself
     (unless you are prepared to rationalize our mutability)
     that in me you see the evening of such a day
  4 as the one in which you review this; you look over it
     now as one who enjoys the prime of life, and then....
     Why do I still create over and over, all of one piece,
     these “wrinkles,” mirror images that will appear under the close scrutiny
  8 of your eyes, beautiful enough to have taught the dumb to sing like angels?
     I admit, sweet love, the lovely case you make;
     only because your worth is as wide as the ocean (and not from my skill)
     will your name have immortal life from now on.
12 Your mind and reputation are as beautiful as your complexion,
      and therefore it appears that I have dozed in this account of you. (Certainly I sometimes sleep dreaming of you.)
      What poverty, what indigence lives in this reporter’s pen!


          The opening line here puns “Neigh, if you read this line [and] re-member [the] knot.” “Re-member” denotes “reconstruct” or “reconstitute,” while a “knot” is a hard riddle. Since “knot” also suggests a horse’s bridle or whip, the wily poet casts any listener among us in an uncomfortably equine posture.

          Construed soberly, this relatively easy-to-follow text comments effectively on human transience and on Will’s role in securing the fame of his unidentified auditor, whose attributes he calls “proud,” “lovely” and “fair.” Typically, the text compliments the listening subject and denigrates the poet’s own skill. In structure the poem suggests a “round,” returning finally to the initial topic of “lines” after ranging out: Respectively, “Lean” and “penury”(in 14) echo “line”and “pen” (in 1).

           The octave is ostensibly a mixed contemplation about time, the sestet a tribute to the friend’s “worth” (10).

           However, given that line 1 starts with a “Neigh” and line 9 with a “Grunt,” any impression of a serious verse tribute honoring the friend crumples under scrutiny. Typically, some diction here points to the Q composition itself: e.g., “line” (1); “review” (4); “all one, ever the same” (6); “lovely argument” (9), a foil to the “lean” text (see 1, 14); “your report” (13); and “line pen you, rude end-thought penned o’ that well” (pun 14). Other references to the Runegame include “re-member [the] knot” (1); “Willed, ruly show” (7), with “rule” as “straightedge”; and “wide as the O-scene is” (10)—where “O” suggests not only “round/rune” but also The Globe, famously described as a “wooden ‘O’” in Henry V (Prologue.13).

           “Wrinkles” (7) suggests “tricks,” in a multileveled passage (6-8) that literally says the poet “creates” the “wrinkles” that are the friend’s “eyes”—maybe signs of aging or laughter, sights to be seen through an optic “glass.” The wit about eyes links with initial “W” (see 6) to generate a potential joke about (Will’s own?) baggy eyes, wit paralleled, e.g., in Rune 29 and elsewhere. (W looks like a cartoon form of baggy eyes.) The two parentheticals in lines 9-10 of the paste-up text form pictographic “eyes” that are funny for being uneven and mismatched. The phrase “Thine eyes...” (8) also helps focus this “eye/I” motif, which includes such pointedly “visual” diction as “you read” (1), “thou seest” (3), “thou reviewest” (4), “an enjoyer” (5), “thy glass” (7), and “I slept” (13). The eye-like parenthetical “(wide as the Ocean is)” (10) itself puns on “white [wide] as the ‘O,’ see, an I [eye] is.” By modern standards tedious, such punning letter-wit, treating alphabetic characters partly as pictographs, is intrinsic to the Q runegame.

           Wit about “dumb” animals and their singing and logical skills undercuts apparent compliments. The equine humor that begins in “Neigh...” (1) persists in “you would devise soam [i.e., a horse-load] weird” (2-3), “proud ass” (5), “there his horse leapt in” (13), and “penury” (14) as a pun on “sty.” Line 8 suggests a “dumb” jackass braying.

           The phallic witticism “thine ‘I’ stout taught the dumb ‘O’ ‘Nay!’ to sing” (8) jokes about penile size, and “Thou art ass hairy [...S., Harry], in knowledge a sinew” (12) carries its load of wit, too. (Will’s family initial, S, puns conveniently on “ass,” while “S., Harry,” may name Henry, Earl of Southampton.) As low wit, “wrinkles” and “eyes” (7-8) suggest scrotum, testicles, other orifices, and phallic “I’s.” Other puns include “Navarre [see Love’s Labor’s Lost] adds linear member naughty” (1) and “Naive [Knave...] Herodotus’ linear member note you” (1-2).

           Further wit about Henry Wriothesley, the earl of Southampton (and thus plausibly “Southy,” Will’s only known patron), includes “Your name-form ‘Hen…’ see, immortal eyes shall halve” (111); the “…ruoy”—the “other half” of “Hen...”—lies in 10, in reverse, in the directive “But sense ‘your’….” Stretched versions of Wriothesley—signaled by “wide as the Ocean is”—occur in the elements “Worth… as… li…” and “Worth…shall haue” (10-11).

           One play directed toward Southy is “Thou seest the twilight of such day / W.H. in Tower ( th’ whore) viewest, this thou dost review / Now proud as an enjoyer…” (3-5). (Southampton was once imprisoned in the Tower.)

Sample Puns

          1) Navarre adds linear member knotty (naughty); Naive Herodotus lying remember; Navy, oar, add t’ his line; Knave, you read this line; red (read) this line; Neigh
          1-2) hymn Berne ode t’ Finn; bear in a tunnel issue, woody Eve’s foe moor (...femur)
          2) ewe and lass, ewe would he wife; laugh you would; ass-fuel devise, homme
          2-3) O, you sly enemy; you woody, wife-foam were to you “O” slimy
          3) In me thou feasted, Willy gets f--ked aye, W.H., in the “O”; Officed I W., Hen; roosteth aye Southy
          3-4) oaf, ass, you Judean tower view; if you see a dawn, thou rouse T.T., his dowdy East review (...Easter view)
          4) Windy whore, Eve, West hies
          4-5) W.H., in Tower you used this, thou dost review now, prowed as an enjoyer, eying (“I-ing”) Dane wan; do Shakespeare rune owe, peer, ode, aye seen (a sin) enjoy; aye, son, enjoy her, Anne, a nun; thou dost rune, opera design anew
          5-6) Andean O newer eye, ’tis tell-all one
          6) Why write? I, Shakespeare [= st], ill, alone, you read his ame (ever the same); W.H., you’re eyed (“I’d); eye still Hall wan, ever the same
          6-7) ever the famed Hugh or John seek; the famed urine sickly is; see glass [Q kles] which “thy glass” will truly show; wrinkles jokes, tricks
          7) Which T. heckles Will? Witch tea
          7-8) thickly, a few’ll laterally show th’ hiney stout; The wrinkles, witch, thick lass, Will truly showed, Annie S.; swill truly, shoat; laugh, “Will” truly shouting
          8) Highness thought tot the dumb one; Annie S., Southy, T. T., oded; Southy taught the dumb O “Neigh!” [see line 1] to sing; that homme be on Nate (knight) O, f---king; Domine
          8-9) the tomb be wan hiatus in jig; that homme bonny, tough inch I grant
          9-10) grunt; grant, feudal Ovid, thy love-lyre (thy love large, you, man t’ butt); futile
        10) Beauty, fancy your worth; Sue eyed a Southy “O,” see Anne eyes [the parentheses in 9-10 suggest mismatched eyes]; Eke ran to see Swede, loyal t’ hell of a liar-Jew meant to be you—’tis John, see your warty ass, wide as the Ocean; see Wyatt as the ocean ice (…ocean eisell)        
        10-11) Sean Eisell, your name is Roman; ideas to hawk (hog) in eisell, urine; wide (white, sweet) as the Ocean, aye Surinam, forming, see (form in seam moor)
        11) Urine aim is Roman sea immortal
        11-12) sorrow hymning “Seymour” tolls, followed Howard as foreign kin; leaf S. Hall halved
        12) T. Howard, assayer, inking alleges anew; T. Howard eye suffering; sinew; rank know, lad, Jeez (cheese) eye new
        12-13) now let Jason hew Anne dead; in “O” let Gaza new end
        13) “I” Nate, Harry S., arise, leap (a ruse [here forest] leapt in); I slept, eying Europe
        13-14) In death, Harry S. arose, leapt, aye nearer Portal; Ralph leapt in your airy (hairy) portal, hell, Annie pee in your eye, witty in thought
        14) penned, oathed well; Port Léon a pen you rued hinted; witty end, hatpin doth duel

Acrostic Wit

          The vertical acrostic letterstring—NVIWN WT TI BYT AL—encodes such potential readings as “New Anne-wit to eye bade all,” “New Anne wet aye bed all,” “None wed I but Hall,” “None witty but Hall,” “Anew eye W in wit, aye, beetle,” “Anne view in witty idyll [B = phonic 8]”; “Nun witty, Betty Hall” (perhaps alluding to Will’s young granddaughter Elizabeth Hall);“New, new, T.T. aye be, yet old” (addressing Thomas Thorpe, Will’s known printing agent); “Anew you knew T.T. idle”; and “Anew I win with Tybalt” (pointing to Romeo and Juliet). Variant phallic readings include “New ‘I,’ wen [i.e., protuberance] witty, bitty ‘awl’,” “Anew eye wen wet [...when wed], ‘I,’ bitty ‘awl’,” “Known wit eye, Betty Hall,” “…I be vital (I bit Hall/awl),” “In ‘V’ anew eye wen, wit-tipped awl,” and “…you knew T.T., Ibid. awl.”

          The upward reverse code—LATY BIT T W NW IVN—suggests, e.g., “Lady Betty W. knew, John,” “Lady bit W. and Wife Anne,” “Lady bit W. in wen [i.e., in a ‘swelling’],” “Lad [Lady...] you bit when whiffin’,” “…wen waving,” “…WNW [a direction], foreign [IV=4],” “Laddie bit wen, whiffin’,” and “Laddie bitty (bid...) t’ win Wife Anne.”

           The down/up hairpin code suggests “Known wit, Tybalt lay typed, wen waving,” “Nun with Tybalt eye, laid abed w/ Anne, wife Anne,” and “Nun with Tybalt laid abed, doing wine (…twin weaving).”

           For witty purposes, W suggests “Will,” while N (here in conjunction with WIV) suggests “Anne.” Alphabetic W may also stand for 10 (i.e., V + V) and for John (W = IN = JN, concurrently also playing on “Anne” as IN). The initial string of straight-minimed letters in the code here—NVIWN—invites various constructions, including Roman numeral readings. BYTAL may mean “beetle” and connect with the “eye-wit” of the text. Groin-shaped letters such as V and W have pictographic implications that, when needed by a reader/player, can be pressed into service.

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