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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 V, Runes 57-70: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2003, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 64
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Rune 63
Seventh lines, Set V (Sonnets 57-70)

                         Rune 63
      (Seventh lines, Set V: Sonnets 57-70)

     Nor think the bitterness of absence sour
     And patience tame. To sufferance bide, each check,
     Show me your image! In some antique book
Crookèd eclipses ’gainst his glory fight
     To find out shames and idle hours in me,
     And for myself mine own worth do define.
     Are vanishing—or vanished out of sight—
And the firm soil win of the watery main?
     When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
     And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
     Why should poor beauty indirectly seek
12 To live a second life on second head?
     In other accents do this praise confound,
     For canker vice the sweetest buds doth love.
1) Nor think may be a self-addressed imperative; 2) the line suggests “To balance bitterness and patience...”; 3) antique puns routinely on “antic”; 4) his = your image’s (see 3); 7) vanishing (sb.) = human disappearance; 8) win of = victims of; 11) indirectly = deviously; 12) second is a routine pun on “fecund.”

     63. A Second Life on Second Head

     Poet, neither consider bitter absence from a loved one depressing
     nor regard patience as weakness. To help me stay patient and stop both errors of thought,
     let me see your face, my muse! Some old book or other
  4 would dramatize malignant figures struggling to overcome the writer’s hero—dark crescents trying to shade out the sun, invading to establish their beachheads—
     revealing by contrast my weak skill and wasted time
     and making my own writing project seem trivial to me.
     Are complete human oblivion
  8 and a vanished terra firma to be outcomes of the ocean’s triumph?
     In a world where impregnable rocks succumb
     and pure perfection is wrongfully put down,
     why should second rate art seek deviously
12 to live a second, parasitic life—like an eclipse on the face of the sun.
     One may add other points to confuse this poem of praise further, especially by voicing criticisms to help tear it down;
     for viciousness, like a cancer, has a natural—often covert—affinity for sweet buds.


          Subtly introspective and with a shifting point of view, Rune 63 shows Will struggling to write tributes to the absent muse, the unnamed friend, and questioning that process. The poet sees himself as a parasite leeching off the friend’s beauty and so, in a concluding paradox, urges the auditor—perhaps himself—to disavow the present instance of praise. The poet also seeks assurance that some future audience will, in time to come, perceive his “antic, antique” work (3). (The pun is automatic in Q, as earlier editors have noted.)

          Will’s envisioned reader may be any beloved friend or any one of us—for his capacious brain could conjure us up, too.

          A pattern of negatives that starts with the first word, “Nor...,” refers ambiguously to the poet’s condition; to the “parasitic” runes, themselves without an independent life; to the larger project that attempts to preserve beauty; and to the friend (always sketchy in both the overt and hidden texts of the cycle) who is its central subject. This denigrating mixture of negative diction comprises such details as “bitterness” and “sour” (1); “crookèd” and “fight” (4); “shames” and “idle hours” (5); “mine own worth” (6), with pejorative implications; “vanished” (7); the suggestion of weakness (7-9); “wrongfully disgraced” (10); “poor” and “indirectly” (11); “second” (12) as “derivative”; “confounded praise” (13); and “canker vice” (14).

           The logic of lines 3-4 may be, further, that the poet needs reassurance to counteract his discovery of heroic precedents that “eclipse” both his current project and its subject—a variant on the “rival poet” motif that is familiar in overt Q materials. Running through this particular poem is the further notion that the friend, poet, and Q texts are crookèd, devious, and infected, and that this fact unites them and brings Will some kind of perverse pleasure. “Crookèd” (4) parallels “indirectly” (11) as well as “askant” (puns12) while contrasting with “right” (10); and the pun “poor beauty indirectly sick” (11) anticipates “canker vice the sweetest buds doth love” (14). Everywhere, attributes seem vaguely attributed to their subjects. The insinuation of “sinfulness” implies that both poet and auditor-player indulge in coterie deviousness bordering on the perverse.

           Much of the diction, as we can now see after unearthing the hidden Runes in Q, alludes to the poet’s Runegame, which is “bitterly absent [absinthe]”; requires patience; is an “antic book”; is “indirect” and “eclipsed”; represents a “waste of time”; has “vanished”; is “disgraced” (suggesting both banishment and something ungraceful); is parasitic; speaks in “other accents”; and is both a “canker vice” and a pregnant bud. Any rune, moreover, is an “image that needs to be revealed” (3); something that “needs definition” (6); a “knot so stout” and virtually “impregnable” (9); and a “poor beauty” (11).

           An analogy between the poet’s “twins” Judith/Hamnet and his Sonnets/Runes—each set half living and half dead—occurs in the complex pun “two live—a fecund, live one, [and a] second dead” (12).

           Among the gamy puns in the text is an opening one on “rune” (an alphabetic reverse of roN), linked with “th’ ink” in the next word (1). Will’s lettercode antique booke,/C rooked ecli... (3-4) encodes the pun “my antic bouquet’s rugged, ugly....” Lettercode puns on “rune” occur easily in Q--here, e.g., in ...regn..., are not, and ...ron... (9-10), where possible suppressed meanings include, e.g., “W., Hen. Wriothes., kiss imp-rune...” (addressing Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, Will’s known patron, often proposed as the mysterious “W.H.” of Q’s dedication page) and “...enable a runed, soft ode and dirged perfection in [= w = IN] rune....” (9-10).

           The opening elements of six lines stand as potential puns on “Anne,” the poet’s wife: N... (1); And... (2, 6, 8, 10); and In... (13). Other lettercode plays on Anne include, e.g., “Our ‘Eve,’ Annie S., anger you—Annie S., hid out of sight” (7) and, e.g., “Pharisee Anne, curvy scythe of wittiest bawdy, said oath low” (14). The lettercodes of 11-12 pun “Wise Hall [weasel, etc.]’d pour bawdy in directly if he kettle eyes...,” a buried joke likely aimed at Dr. John Hall, the poet’s son-in-law. Q’s recurring code element In (here., e.g., opening 13) always suggests “Anne” and “John” concurrently, while mine (e.g., 6) and maine (8) encode “my Anne.” A trebly complex overlay exists in WH, the initials of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley), since this pair of letters may also stand (as IN H) for both John Hall and Anne Hathaway.

           Humor about “leaves” and “oathers” (i.e., textual pages and coterie members sworn to secrecy) infests lines 12-13.

Sample Puns

           1) Inner; Rune (reversed); North in Kitty be “I’d”; ink; John; Betty; knave’s A/B offense; fore, four; Runed ink, th’ bitterness of absinthes’ [cf. “bite each cheek” (pun 2)] hour
           1-2) fief obeys in suffering deep; …attain city, maid (mete office)
           2) ah, me, tough usury ends, a pity
           2-3) X/O me, you rhyme again; Anne paid, John seed emit (a few), O Sue, fear Anne, see Betty (each cheek show)
           3) Ass, homme, you rhyme again (rummage in) some antic book; Show me your “I,” Magi
           3-4) homier, imagine sermon t’ Cuba hooks; antic bouquet’s rugged, ugly; S.H. owe mirror image, John, foamy antic be hocus, rogue dick, lip seize; end Hecuba kiss
           4) ellipses; Zero Cadiz’ll eye; seize Janus’s glory; eye cycle arise
           4-5) his glorious “I” jets in, out (end-out ass); …S., Judy, two send out, S., Ham.; Anne, idle whore, enemy
           5) to find out fey ms. (mass, Massey), Anne did leer, aye, sin; home’s (homme’s) an idle whore’s enemy
           5-6) whore’s enemy Anne disarms
           6) defer missal, semen own, worth doughty sin; I knew new earth dowdy; Anne S., o’er myself, mine own worth do define; disarms hell feminine worth
           7) Aryan I find Giovanni; A rune is injury, any fit (I shit) out of sight
           7-8) out of city, in debt, is army
           8) in death of Hermes, all win; Anne, death’s arm, is oily; host, he weighed rhyme, Annie; sail away now, Southy watery main (man; …wait, remain); in O, Southy, Waite (Wyatt) remain
           9) semper (simper) nigh be Lear, not so stout; W., Henry, seeks impregnable our knot (a rune) so stout; Aryan ought foes tout
         10) end, rigid peer’s ass, shun; newer inches, you laddie-ass (lady-ass) graced
         10-12) Anne—dare I jet perfection? Wrong, fool! Lady is gray, see, twice holed, poor, bawdy, indirect, lazy kettle (cattle), aye vacant, lazy, unfecund…
         11) asshold deeper be odd
         11-12) asshole dapper be audient, erectly (…bawdy end, directly) f--ked; W.H., ye should poor beauty indirectly f--k, to live a second (fecund) life…
         12) Two [i.e., Sonnets and Runes?] live a fecund life unseconded
         12-13) To Livy, aye fecund elephants Esau kneaded (To live, a fecund elephant see-saw needed)—in other accents; see son dead: I in other accents do this praise [of Hamnet?] confound
         13-14) oather, assent, sedate is Paris cunt, found fore, canker-viced, the sweetest butt, ass doughty, love
         14) Fore, see Anne curvy (cur), Southy (seedy); sweet is Tybalt’s ass; Sweetest Beauty, said oath low; butts to the loo; aye, city feud is Tybalt’s doughty love

Acrostic Wit

          The emphatic acrostic codeline—NAS C TAAAW AW TIF [= S]—suggests such encrypted meanings as “An acid ode I halve” and “Annie S. see, too odd [toad, taut, etc.] is,” with pudendal bawdry in TAAAWAWT. Other possible readings include, e.g., “Annie S. see, too odd I have (twat I halve),” “Annie S., City [London], what I have,” “Annie S. seedy, eye whatI have,” and “Annie S. sea-taught is.”

          The upward codeline—FIT WAW A A AT CSAN—suggests, e.g., “Fit woe I aye eyed: See Son [Christ? the dead Hamnet?],” “Fey twat see, Ass Anne (…season, see-sawing),” “…woe aye, ‘tis son,” “Is it woody season?” “Fit woe aye t’ season,” “Fit wood [crazy seizure], seize Anne,” and “Fit woe I eye aye, teasing [descend].”

          “Fie to a white season” is an appealing reading that suggests winter as a time of composition for these verses—with the poet in a grumpy mood. The focus of this directive seems interactive with the text itself, which starts with a comment on bitterness and mentions such natural phenomena as eclipses, floods, and budding flowers.

           As in the downward code, the insistent pudendal bawdry in the letterstring TWAWAAAT does not exclude other, more polite readings. Such nearly palindromic acrostic codelines occur often in Q.

           The down/up hairpin mean be read to mean “In ass taut, I’ve fit woody sea-son,” “Nasty odyssey [F=S] to a white season,” “Nasty odyssey to a Wyatt-session [alluding to the early sonneteer],”and “Nasty, eye a woe: David, woody, ceasing.”

Proceed to Rune 64
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