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 78
Return to the Index of Set VI

Rune 77
Seventh lines, Set VI (Sonnets 71-84)

                         Rune 77

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

     That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot, 
      And hang more praise upon deceasèd I,   
     Which by and by black night doth take away:
 4 The earth can have but earth, which is his due.
     Now, counting best to be with you alone,                     
     That (every word) doth almost fell my name.
     Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
  8 Half-added feathers to the learnèd’s wing.              
     Yet what of thee thy poet doth invent,
     My saucy bark inferior far to his,
     The earth can yield me but a common grave
12 And therefore art enforced to seek anew
     How far a modern quill doth come too short;
     But he that writes of you, if he, can tell.
1) I = Myself, alive (contrast 2); 4) but = mere; 5) counting best suggests good meter, since “numbers” means metrics; 6) fell = wipe out (eyepun: sell, propagate); 8) likely an allusion to R. Greene’s attack on the poet; 9) Yet = Despite; invent is a latinate pun on “blow into,” implying wind in sails; 10) bark (a pun) = boat, bow-wow; 14) But = Only; tell (a pun) = convey, measure or “tally.”                                                       

     77. How Far a Modern Quill Comes Short

     In your sympathetic contemplations I want you to forget me as a living entity
     and instead to festoon with praise my deceased self,
     which is inexorably doomed by the natural order of things to disappear in darkness:
  4 Thereby the earth might get only what’s coming to him, the physical part of me.
     Now, granting that to be with you would be best—and trying as I do here to meter out my best verses for you to read privately—
     every word I’ve spoken about separation, each unsigned word I struggle to write, almost destroys me while also, perhaps, threatening to degrade my reputation as writer.
     By devious calculations that flit like shadows on your sundial you may detect
  8 half-finished quillwork here added to this circling, flighty erudition. (Doing this very text, I’m just halfway through this project.)
     Despite that part of you that this poet uses his imagination to conjure up,
     given that my pert yawp and mode of navigation (remember, I’m “afoot”) are far inferior to those the wide earth has,
     he will by nature yield me only an ordinary death and eventual oblivion,
12 and thus he has compelled me as an artist to explore in original ways
     the limits of contemporary composition before having it inevitably fall short of the mark.
     Only he who writes about you can measure (if anyone can) that gap.


          This self-deprecating poem, hard but wonderful, spends half its lines on Will’s own death and several others on the shortcomings of his art (see 13). Lines 4 and 11 are closely echoic.

          The contrastive “I’s” of 1 and 2 represent the living and the dead poet, with images of the poet’s death and burial abounding: “Hang more praise” (2), e.g., suggests festooning a bier with crepe; “common grave” (11) restates “but [i.e., mere] earth” (4); “fell my name” (6) suggests a fallen burial marker; and lines 7-8 paint the movement of the sun over inscribed stone or of a bird flying overhead, shadowing a “dial.” “Saucy bark” (10) is a metaphor for the body itself, a “flashy boat,” with the suggestion of “putting out to sea.” Several details in 11-14 suggest the metaphor of exploration. Ironically, Will’s medium is earth (4, 11), and his project dooms him to “come short” of intimate contact with the unnamed beloved whom he writes for and seeks to connect with (see 5, 13).

           The feathery figure of “wings” (8)—see “quill” (13)—alludes arcanely to the pictographic “77,” the rune number here. These paired 7’s, in this 7th-line poem, are “half-added”(8) not only because they’re juxtaposed but also because 77 represents the halfway point in Q and because 77 as “wings” would protrude asymmetrically from one side of any creature they were attached onto. Since “77” is “LL” upside down,“eye second (fecund) ‘L’” is an operative terminal pun (14)--with “L” doubling itself to make a “di-L” (see 7).

           Metaphoric analogs for the runes themselves include “your sweet thoughts” (1), “thy dials shady, stealthy” (7), “my saucy bark inferior” (10), “common grave” (11) and a “seeking art” doomed to failure (12-13). “Modern quill” is ironic because the Runes as coterie art have a long history in English practice, as I have tried to show elsewhere.

           The salient textual figure in line 8 rests both on the implicit pun bird/Bard and on Robert Greene’s epithet “upstart crow” for Will. (Early in Shakespeare’s career, Greene had attacked the playwright by using that derogatory phrase.) “Half-added feathers to the learnèd’s wing”—echoed as “short quill” (13)—suggests a faulty attempt to stick quill-like feathers onto a skeletal substructure. “Feathers” also puns on “fetters” (which would inhibit flight). “The learnèd” is both the erudite poet and the gameplayer—who indeed now wields “a modern quill,” in my own case a word processor, and still finds himself “coming short.” The pun “learnèd[’s] swing” means “erudite cycle” and “recondite round [= rune].”

           “Saucy bark” renames the raucous squawk of the “crow” in Q.

           Nautical puns proliferate—e.g., “aweigh” (3), “sail minim t’help ye tide (...t’ hide yaw)” (6-7), and “a sea-homme on gray endures oar” (11). So do words about “telling,” both as “writing” and “tallying.” Jokes about breaking wind (as in 9-10, see below) add earthiness to this “air.” “Black Night” (3) suggests “School of Night,” an in-group allusion. (An arcane cabal of that name, including such figures as Sir Walter Raleigh, is known to have existed in London during the 1590s.)

           As usual, gamy puns lurk in all the unexplored letterstring codes of Q’s visible horizontal lines. Line 1, e.g., playfully combines bawdry with mild sacrilege: e.g., “That ‘I’ [a phallic pictograph] in your ass wet (, th ‘O’ [a bawdy pictograph], gets (...jets...) woody before God.” Concurrent is “your ass we et, th’ ‘O’ huge ‘tis.” Line 6 plays on Will and Anne’s names: “The ‘Hat-euer-Y’ word [i.e., ‘Hathaway’] doth almost fell my name.” Line 10 comments on the runes: “Ms. awes aye” and “My saws [i.e., sayings] I bay, arcane series, arty ‘O’s’ [= Rounds, Runes].”

           Line 11 may address George Eld, listed on the title page as one of Q’s printers: “ ...canny Eld, maybe you’d a comma engrave [followed by a printed comma].” Q’s emphatic form “Poet” (9) anticipates the impolite pun “farre t...,” with concurrent plays on “saucy bark,” “hiss,” and the suggestion of “wind” in “invent” (9).

           Lines 12-14 encode an allusive “tail-pun,” one version of which is this: “End t’ Harry’s [i.e., Southampton’s?] ‘O’: reared in Africa, Dido see, Kenya wife, a remedy our own quill (...runequill) doth commit, effort bawdy, heated (...hated), wry it is. A few eye fecund tail (...tale).

Sample Puns

          1) The tenure’s witty thoughts swelled; Old Bess [Elizabethan] argot; That “I” in your sweet, haughty ass wood[y] be; That “I” in your ass, weedy thou jet, swelled before; old beef
          1-2) Wood [i.e., Crazy] Bess, our God ending
          2) o’er Paris you Pontius eased; Ending moor, peer ass upon dick eased; Moor pee raise (a pun), diseasèd “I”
          1-3) ten [inches] t’ hang moor, peer, eye fabian dick of Ed, which…Black Knight doth take away
          2-3) say if Edo hies; Pontius see eye Phaedo
          3 )W.H. eye, chubby end by black Kenya hid, doubted eye Kuwait; by handy Bible, jacking, I jet; babble; Babel
          3-4) aye weighted, “eared” is Anne, heavy butt, eared witch; knight, do Th. T. equate; eye Kuwaiti earth
          4) vapid Urdu, I see, hisses; Cana vapid hear; T’ Harry, thick Anne-half bawdier, th’ Witch, is his due
          4-5) Witch Isis, duenna see; Witches his tune o’ Wiccan tinge; aye, stew, no-account John; dune
          5) Know cunt-inch, Bess; Now counting be Shakespeare: 2B; In “O” counting, bestow beauty; Hugh alone; in “O,” cunt-inch be stubby, wide, high awl wan
          5-6) You alone thought every word oath, Hall; …every wart o’ thalamus fit Solomon eye; “To be,” with you all wan (with deux, all one), that (every word) doth…fell my name
          6) The “Hat-euer-Y” word; awl moist sell, men aime
          6-7) awl moist sell, minim—though you, bitty, die, awl’s heady (shitty)
          7) Th’ obit hid y’ awl, ass; thou ewe, Betty, die, awl’s of Hades, t’ hell-theme eye I, Shakespeare, now; of Hades t’ hell, Thomists know
          7-8) my fit knave (gnoff) added; now we’ve added fetters to the learnèd swing [soaring loop = round] 8 itch evaded feathers
          8-9) Wingy twat, oft heady, poot doth invent; H., evade dead, fat Aristotle; Lear needs wine
          9) toasty, the puta thin vent; Why, Anne [et] What-of-thee, th’ hippo Anne doth invent
          9-10) “In wind, Tommy’s a whiff,” I bark
          9-11) T’ my foes I be hurricane, serious air twisty (to hiss)—with pictographic (     )
        10) My saws I bay, arcane, serious, arty “O’s” Ms. (Miss) awes eye; My saw, saber, kiss, inferior far to his [with Q’s righthand parenthesis mark a phallic pictograph]
        10-11) My saucy bark, censor, erase, “errored” (a rude) assault; censor air, fart of his lady earthy, see Anne
        10-12) ass, A/B ark see, inferior fart O hissed, hear it hiss, Ann, yield me butt—aye common grown (groan) t’ Harry S., o’er-hard (o’er-heard)
        11) [cf. line 4]; Eld, maybe you’d a comma engrave [followed by the end-line comma]; yield dome [wisdom], beauty, a common G-rune; th’ heart-agony held me
        11-12) The hearth’s Annie let me poot a common grunt
        12) Anne t’ Hereford in force did owe f--k anew; ditto; Dido seek anew
        12-13) Anne died here for art; hear fart enforced, too fecund, you hover aye, my odor nick you ill; to seek Anne (end), you hover; fecund user, eye m’ ode; seek Annie, woe, farm odd earn; reared in Africa, [woul]d two see Kenya woes; reared in Africa, Dido see, Kenya wife, a remedy
        13) Hover, eye m’ odor, Nick; fart
        13-14) short beauty, that rite soft you eye, F[ulke] Sandell; doth comet afford beauty t’ Hat?
        14) Butt had Hath-awry to sauce you—aye, f--k Anne-tail; entail; and tell; fecund tail; Bawdy that wry tease o’ Sue’s essential; icy candle

Acrostic Wit

          The downward acrostic codeline—TAWTN TT HYM TAH B—suggests, e.g., “Taunting t’ Tom T. I be” [with Tom T. = T.T. = Thomas Thorpe, Will’s printing agent, whose initials occur twice in Q’s frontmatter], “…empty ape,” and “Taut night-hymn type.” Other variant readings include these: “Taut in Tom T. I be,” “Taunting T.T., hymn ‘To be…’,” “T’ ode, night-hymned, I be,” “T’ Odin Tom T. I help,” “Twat and titty hymn t’ ape,” and “Taught (Taut) knight him t’ obey.”

          The upward (reverse) codeline—BHAT MYHTT N TWAT—aligns an insistently bawdy TWAT, preceded by a convincing form of “maiden” (always a close variant of midden, i.e., dunghill). This form of the codestring can be read, e.g., to mean “Bitty maiden twat,” “Betty [Will’s granddaughter Elizabeth Hall?] might end weighty [echoing hundreds of jokes about Anne’s obesity],” “Bitty mite, end white,” “Bede, mighty end await,” “Betty, my age [= H] tint white,” and “80 [B = 8] may attend Wyatt [the earlier sonneteer?].” Other variants include “Betty May H.…,” “Bay t’ maiden twat,” “Be Hat. mighty tent weighty [...tint white],” ”“Betty mighty end weighed (…my titty and twat),” and “Beat my head and twat.”

          Readings of the down/up “hairpin” codeline include, e.g., “Toady Anne Tom T. aye beat, maiden to hate,” “Taut in T.T.-hymn, Tibet made end weighty,” and “Toad intime, Tubby Tommy hid in twat.”

Proceed to Rune 78
Return to the Index of Set VI
Return to Index Page: Shakespeare’s Lost Sonnets