Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets

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 77
Return to the Index of Set VI

Rune 76
Sixth lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 76

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

     The hand, that writ it (for I love you so,
     To do more for me than mine own desert)
     As, after sunset fadeth in the west,
 4  The very part was consecrate to thee.
     Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure
     And keep, invention in a noted weed
     Of mouthèd graves will give thee memory
And heavy ignorance; aloft to flee
     Deserves the trávail of a worthier pen.
     The humble (as the proudest) sail doth bear, 
     Though I, once gone to all the world, must die 
12 Finding thy worth—a limit past my praise
     That you yourself, being extant, well might show;
     That to his subject lends not some small glory.
2) To puns on Two (i.e., hands); then (Q than): a routine editorial equation among Sonnets editors; 4) The very part puns on “Thievery part” (i.e., hands?); 5) Doubting = Unsure whether...; 6) keep (sb.) = stronghold; noted puns on “an oded”; weed = mourning garb, wild growth; 7) will puns on Will, the poet (see 5, 13); Q giue thee puns on Judy (short for Judith, Will’s daughter); 8) And... puns on “Anne, heavy ignorance,” suggesting that she’s fat and stupid; 9) the trávail puns on, that revel; 11) gone to all puns, “John—too, Hall,” a play on Will's son-in-law’s name; 12) past puns on paste (any soft mixture, suggesting “fake”); 13) being extant well might s[=f]how puns, “being extant, Will’m eyed foe.”  

      76. A Noted Weed of Mouthèd Graves

     My hand, that wrote it (for I love you so
     for doing more for me than I deserve, enriching my barren life)
     as, after the sun sets in the west,
  4 that very part of me was dedicated to you.
     Unsure whether (but fearful that) this grasping era will pilfer its treasure
     and stronghold, witty creativity in the well-known cloak
     of mournful sepulchers (like a knotty weed beside a grave) will give you attention and perpetuate your memory,
  8 but also will produce leaden ignorance and ignored tributes. High flying and escape
     call for efforts from a worthier pen.
     But the little sail, like the showiest, propels,
     though I, once departed to the far corners of the world, must die
12 seeking your worth, a thing past the limits of my praise
     that only you yourself, living, could show adequately.
     That merit gives me and my writings a significant glory.


          Again the poet’s subject is the process of struggling to memorialize his muse—his unnamed auditor. Images of writing (as a movement of hand and pen) mix with figures about body parts, travel, death and burial, and theft. Adding textural density are such puns as “desert,” “noted weed,” “travail,” and “subject.”

           The motif of a “writing hand” (1) recurs in such details and puns as these: “two [hands]” (2); “very part” (4); the grasping fist, on guard against theft (4-5); “keep” as “hold on”; “noted” as “written down” (6); “the travail [work, ‘travel’] of a worthier pen” (9); “my praise”; the pun “Signing” (12); “extant [ink]well” (13); “his subject [i.e., topic]”; and “lends” (14), suggesting a manual act that contrasts with “filching” and “steal” (5).

           “Mouthèd graves(7)—an epithet I’m personally sensitive to because of the happenstance of my family name—means both Will’s Runes and the so-called “rival poets” that commentators on the Sonnets have often discussed. Perhaps these other poets are sycophants of the Earl of Southampton’s (Will’s only known patron) if Southy is the “friend”(or one of the friends) that Will has in mind. But “mouthed graves” also means the Runes, with all their buried talk. And the “other poet” of Q is always, on one level, Will himself as runewriter.

           Among body parts that accumulate to generate a motif here are such terms and puns as “hand” (1); “thievery part”; “right toothy” (4); “history of your hand” (5-6); “mouthed” (7), “fit’s aisle [i.e., a line of a stanza] doth be ear, though eye see (...icy) one’s gone” (10-11), and (bawdily) “well” (13).

           Figures about travel, geography, and weather also lend basic texture. Reinforcing such figures are “automatic” puns that function as customary subtextual allusions to exotic locales, which here include “Minoan” (2), “Thou I saw in Saigon...” (11, perhaps anachronistic), and “my Paris thought you your cell” (12-13). “Mine own [Minoan...] desert” (2) puns on “waste places,” and “as after-sunset fadeth in the west” (3) suggests blackness—with both strings allied to “heavy ignorance” (8). Linking with the pun “...tall, the world must die” (11) is this punning joke in 6-8: “A noted weight of mouthed giraffes will give theme [...the hymn] my Orion’d hue: Eye ignorance aloft to slay.” A concurrent pun is “Tall to you our lead [a printing term?] musty” (11).

           Two somewhat different natural regions are the world “aloft” (8) and the open sea (10-12), paired foils. The sea symbolizes the poet’s limitless voyage “to all the world,” and toward the friend. Will seems a lowly seaman in His Majesty’s service in the details “consecrate to thee” (4), “Deserves the travail” (9), “humble…sail,” (10) and “his subject” (14), while the lingering figure of dusk (3) seems to color the pastel picture of the poet sailing off into the sunset to die (11).

           Deeply buried in the poem (see 3, 8, 12) is the familiar idea that the friend is the heavenly sun, showy, “lending glory” (13-14), and inaccessible to a lowly mariner in darkness. The notion of pilferage (5) is consistent with “flee” (8), silence (7-8), absence (11), and the nighttime setting (3).

           Incidental rhymes, assonance, and consonance typically supply echoic end linkages to help supplant “missing” rhyme. The bilingual pun “X-tant” (13) jokes, “too much of an acrostic” or “an extra heavy cross to bear.” Q’s form of small (see 14) always puns visually on “female,” while selfe (13) puns on “sail see/sea.”

           The usual family nameplays are here. Puns such as “Anne, Heavy Ignorance…” (8) is a typical throwaway epithet joking about Will’s wife’s corpulence and slow wit. The phrase complements the nameplays on “Will” (5, 7, 13). One full pun in 13 is “To Hathaway [Q ...hat you y...] ourself, being extant, Will might show.” The pun “O smooth ed[itor?] gross will Judy maim. O, wry end you eye...” (7-8) may refer to Will’s daughter Judith and is possibly aimed at Thomas Thorpe, known to be the “T.T.” of Q’s frontmatter: Various plays throughout Q suggest that Will thought of Tommy Thorpe as an “editor” who would see Q into print in an exact, jot-and-tittle form. “Hedgerows will Judy maim” (7) is one alternate form of this pun, perhaps a joke about the stultifying damage that comes from living in the provinces.

           A possible reference to the “lost” medieval romancer Huchown (Hugh-John?) lies in the pun “do th’ buried Hugh eye (once John), to all the world musty” (10-11). Theatrical puns, too, can be deduced: e.g., “The buried, huge, high Swan [Theatre?]’s gone, little, The World [i.e., The Globe?] must die” (10-11). “The Tower cells (eee!), being extant, well might show that [i.e., the ‘limit’ of 12?] to his subject lands...” (13-14) may be an in-joke about Southampton, who spent time incarcerated in The Tower.

Sample Puns

          1) Thin daughter, eye “Titus” or “I love you, Sue”; th’ handy Hat. writ it; Hath-awry eyed it, virile (feral, sorrel); foe; Hat., wearied, eyed furlough
          1-2) Fetid “O,” m’ whore; you saw Te Deum o’er; foe to autumn, Horace or maiden mine
          2) Moor, sore meat, in m’ Annie; soar, sore; toady, m’ whore-formed Hen., Minoan desert; th’ enemy known, divert (differed, deferred)
          2-3) Tot, humorous, our meat in m’ Annie “O,” windy farts astir; th’ enemy nigh, Owen deserts after sunset
          3) reason is attested, thin; Ass’s terse enough, et [Anne] faded in the weft [threads]; Aye Sister/Son sets [suggesting verse groups about Judith/Hamnet] a death induces, heavy repartee
          3-4) We, Shakespeare, thieve, rip art
          4) son serrated ode
          4-5) ever apart was son secret, tot, hid
          5) dabbed inch, this I’ll change; a jewel is teal, Easter azure; thief ill see hang, a jewel still
          5-6) a jewel steal, history’s urine, dick pee, and windy Onan aye note dewy, Ed; eye, stray, a foreign dick peeing
          6) Eying (“I-ing”) Dick, opinion shunning, I noted widow’s moth, Ed grave; eye nun t’ Io nighing aye; I end capon, untie Onan
          6-7) aye noted widow smooth’d grace Will; an oded (a noded), witty, awesome “O” youth had; Mouthèd Graves, Will give thee memory [admittedly anachronistic]; in a note dewy, Edo foamed
          7) Oaf mouthed gray swill; grace will God hymn, moor aye; of mouth, had gross Will gift; mouthed Grey swill give; hedgerows will Judy maim
          7-8) smooth Edgar Ave’s will give the hymn a moory (amour-y) end; swill gaudy, m’ aim Orion; growths, will Judy—mammary and heavy—ignore
          8) I in Davy ignore Anne’s “Selahs” to tussle
          8-9) Anne, heavy ignorance, allows T.T. “O,” lady’s arse, that raw ale, “O”-sewer (sore); flee Devereux; “Selahs” Titus’ll add 9 sir, use the trellis; forest hid Raleigh’s awe (Raleigh’s aye worthy); Raleigh’s word hear; forest hid real ease, awe, earthy rapine
          8-10) to flee Dis, arise, thought Raleigh, o’ sword hie, repent
          9-10) O fey, worth 1 arpent; oaf, eye warty rip in the humble-assed helper; the travail o’ sword, hairpin, th’ homme blessed—he prowed ass t’ fail; veil, oaf, a wartier pee in the humble ass
          10) least Hebrew ode is tough; humblest (blest) Hebrew you’d aft assail
          10-11) Urdu, John’s agon; …joins agon; do th’ buried Hugh eye (once John), to all the world musty; The humble ass the proudest ass elateth, buried huge “I,” wand’s gone; The Homme Blest help Row D; rowdy, Shakespeare’s ale doth bury thought
          11) you Jason see; you I saw in Saigon; ouch; eye Zion, see Jonah (little, too); Thou eye son, see John, (too, Hall); W., earl dim, used dye; musty; Thou John see gone to awl the World Mufti [a Mohammedan priest]
          11-12) you, earl, must, defending Hugh o’er th’ limit, behave; the buried, huge, high Swan’s gone, little, The World [suggesting The Globe] must die
          12) Finding jet, you earth-element, base Tommy, praise; Ascending, thy worthy, limned past; siege; natal
          12-13) puff Tommy, Paris edit; my priested ewer see; my peer, I sated (seated) you
          13) Th’ Tower cell see, being extant, well made, devoted to his subject, lends knot…glory; fabian [swashbuckler] Jack’s t’ end well; see being, hexed Anne
          13-14) William eye, jet fetid; mighty ass wedded to his subject lends…glory; so ms. may Hall glory; foams my awl galore, why? in Dis, knot’s home of my allegory; snotty foam, small glow, wry; to oasis you buy ass t’ lend; if you be Jack, tail-end is knot

Acrostic Wit

         The emphatic acrostic codestring here—TT A TDA OAD TT FTT in its downward form—is nearly a palindrome, and its paired T’s suggest that it is probably a “Thomas Thorpe” play. Possible readings of the down code include “T.T., eye today ode, T.T., fit [i.e., stanza]” and “T.T. hated ode, T.T. fit [fought].” (TT always puns in puerile fashion on titty or tiddy.)

         The reverse code—TTFTTDAOADTATT—can also be read variously: e.g., “T.T. fetid aided hate [...Hat., suggesting ‘Hathaway’],” “Titty of T.T. dead taught,” “T.T. fit debt taught,”and “T.T. fit dated.”

         The down/up “hairpin” codeline suggests that the acrostic may be a parody “date line.” The reading “T.T. 8 [A.D.] dated fit; T.T. fit dated 8 [A.D.]” means, perhaps, that Thorpe finds the stanza naively primitive. The line may also imply that Thorpe is either naive about history or, in a genuinely astute way, is connecting Will’s runic practices to a long European tradition of literate gameplaying. Alternately, the date ’88 might link the rune (with its “naval” details) to the Armada year, 1588.

Proceed to Rune 77
Return to the Index of Set VI
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets