Notes on Set V: Laboring for Invention
set houses several major sonnets on mutability, including Sonnets
60, 64, 65. Collectively the 28 texts here drift toward an emphasis on
the poet’s obsequious role, insuring the friend’s permanence,
through art, so as to record “what beauty was of yore” (Sonnet
68.14) for future ages, including ours; Will’s skepticism in his
struggle is also a dominant topic in this set.
Materials in the sonnets
suggesting the flawed nature of both the poet and his subject (e.g., Sonnets
62, 67) color all the texts. Though some texts might be heard as addressing
any current reader, the sense persists that Will has in mind some particular
male auditor/muse with whom he shares a dark secret, though what the friend’s
“sin” is remains mysterious. (Perhaps it is merely being a
part of the coterie, with its School of Night aspects.)
of the Dark Mistress (a conceit for the ms.) and the “other poet(s)”
antagonistic to Will appear here and there in the set.
Because the Sonnets
themselves shift person (from “you” to “he” particularly),
the Runes pick up a kind of name-that-pronoun ambiguity that usually is
not such a factor in the overt texts. Here Sonnets 57-61 maintain a second-person
address that Sonnet 62—where the paradoxical “thee/myself”
intrudes—confounds. Sonnets 63-68 generally use the third person
to speak of the friend. And the “couplet” texts on the leaf,
Sonnets 69-70, return to second-person address. The upshot in the runes
is ambiguity of reference; often the “he” pronouns gain new
antecedents in context, ceasing to refer to the muse at all.
While none of the Sonnets
has ever been heard before to comment on the poet’s struggles with
double composition—and on how the Q project itself makes “sins”
inevitable—that topic is now insistent, and not just in the Runes.
After the fact, it must hereafter be applied to the sonnet texts, too,
to help us understand their fruitful possibilities. The opening of Sonnet
66, “Tired with all these…,” for example, now
means much more to us than it did before. And “Those parts…the
world’s eye doth view” (Sonnet 69.1) now must mean “the
Sonnets—not the Runes.”
Sonnet 66 offers
an extended example of how we may now need to reapproach the Sonnets to
find meaning we’ve been unaware of: Reading the opening “And’s”
as “Anne’s” turns the poem into a catalog of parallel
epithets, and a diatribe against the wife; one can almost hear her self-righteous
self-descriptions (she’s “captive good,” attending “Captain
Ill) and can laugh at Will’s pun “…from these wood [crazy]
aye be John [Hall” (Sonnet 66.13).
Among good titles that
Will slips us within this set are “Windy Puffery” (see Rune
61), “Commend a Crow” (see Rune 60), and “The Ornament
of Beauty is Suspect” (see Rune 59).
The set leaf
allows a player to skim left-to-right, top-to-bottom, across
the emphatic letters BTIL / ISAVV / STAT / TT
and read “Beetle eye saw stat (his tete),
TT.” The reading “Betty (Bitty) Lisa, wise tot” jokes
about Will’s new granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall. The vertical
set-leaf code—B IS TSTT IAAT LWT—allows “Ate
[8=B] is tasty, jawed hell-wit (…lewd)” and “Bess tested
The most obvious diagonal
code on the set-leaf—BITSSI TAL TAVVTT—encodes
“Bitsy tail toyed (dowdy),” “Betsy told a witty…,”
and “Betsy tail, too wet (…to wit).” Puns in the sonnets
on “cheek” and “parts” (e.g., 68.1, 69.1) may
have Betsy’s “bitsy tail” in mind.
New World allusions in the subtexts continue to astound (see
the Index to Subtextual Terms).