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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 X, Runes 127-140: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2004, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 138
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Rune 137
Eleventh lines, Set X (Sonnets 127-140)

                         Rune 137

     (Eleventh lines, Set X: Sonnets 127-140)

     At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
     O’er whom their fingers walk with gentle gait,
     A bliss in proof, and proud, and very woe—
 4  I grant eye never saw a goddess go.
     One on another’s neck, do witness bear
     To mourn for me, since mourning doth thee grace;
     Whoe’er keeps me, let my heart be his guard
 8  And sue a friend came debtor for my sake.
     So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will.
     For nothing hold me; so, it please thee, hold,
     Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not.
12 O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust;
     And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
     Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad.
     Glosses: 1) Q’s form of At such generates a bawdy eyepun: e.g., “At f--k, W. H. owe [i.e., acknowledge], naughty be horn of Harry in ‘O’ bawdy...” may aim at Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, Will’s only known patron; 2) with 1, the line suggests “peruse a perverse text,” punning, “wide genital gate”; 3) in proof suggests “in printed form”; pun: “proud endeavor you owe [acknowledge]”; 3-4) note end-rhymes; 4) eye: alternately, I (as in Q); 7) puns: Whore, merd [excrement], art/hard; 7-8) puns: guardian, Anne, Sue’s rune; Dick, aim deep, tear foe or miss, etc.; 8) sue = follow, become; 9) puns: Southy, being Wriothes., Hen., “W.” ill; will suggests sexual drive; 10-11) puns: e.g., Fore “no-thing” hole deem, sooty play see, the hole dour, my Annie S. see in jet... (a pudendal joke); 11) this is not may mean “this does not exist”; 12) pun: a bit I sin, seeming t’ rust (echoing mine in 11, ill-wresting in 14); 13) she (ambig.) = love (see 12), the poet’s “mistress/mss./Runes” (see 1-4); 14) ill-wresting = wrongly construing (suggesting misreading a text).

     137. Our Fingers Walk with Gentle Gait

     Perusing this creature who, not created beautiful but perhaps not lacking in beauty,
     a ms. scanned with measured strides of fingers,
     an ultimate joy in print, an arrogant woe personified—
  4 I admit that what anyone’s eyes have seen here is not a goddess moving along.
     Viewers supporting each other, I ask you to embrace me as I embrace you, saying that you
     will mourn for me, since melancholy becomes your face and is good for your soul.
     Whoever supports me and perpetuates my memory, let my heart (and art) protect him—
  8 following a friend to whom I’m indebted for what he has done for me;
     Thus, already having Will’s riches, you get more of them, and gain a mutual commitment.
     Since nothing now holds me, take hold, if you please;
     otherwise, my eyes tend to see this text and tell me that it doesn’t exit. I envision the future support of an empathic reader but simultaneously doubt it will ever come to be.
12 O, the best habit of love is its apparent trust of others;
     thus love, my own affirmative hopes, and even this perverse ms. all help deflect my enemies,
     now that this misapprehending world, ready to find the worst in things, has gotten so bad.


          However one “ill-wrests” this text, Will’s “bliss in proof” asks the affectionate reader (see 5, 12) to “bear witness” (5) and “mourn” (6) for him so as to “add to Will” (9) by helping create what will not otherwise “exist” (11). Thus the poet’s reader can help correct the “ill-wresting" (14) that Will expects his work to generate.

           This male reader/collaborator, “an oather” (5) or coterie member, varies the two-man/one “woman” situation that recurs toward the end of Q, but the perverse, “wo-ful” ms. is companion to both—the object of both their “fingers’ walk” (2-3). “She” here is Will’s usual “Perverse Mysteries,” a conceit for his inky text and particularly for the Runes, which occupy a medial relationship between himself as poet and the unnamed friend/muse whom he addresses (here, e.g., in 5ff., and overtly in 8).
           As usual, too, distracting multiplicity is the norm in Will’s Runegame. The fact that Q’s A blisse in proofe (3) puns “I be lassie and pair off’ illustrates how slippery these lines are to construe. Puns on I/eye(s) and on to/two (eyes) are routine here, as elsewhere. Suggestive bawdry about men “on one another’s neck” is another one of the obfuscatory tangents. Because “O” means “round / rune” and also conveys anal/pudendal bawdry, Will is ambiguous when he puns “O-love’s beast-habit is in seam, inch-thrust ended here for S. rheumy” (12-13), and “Fingers will queue aye th’ genital gate” (2).

           Legal terms—e.g., will, sue, proof, grant, witness bear, guard, debtor, hold, trust—establish the motif of imprisonment. Perhaps the implicit dramatic situation goes this way: Will is in debtor’s prison (8), “kept” (7) and “held” (10) in the dark (11), trusting in a “rich” friend (9) who grants him a last, tearful interview and promises not to forget him (5-6). The item that the poet scans (1-4) may be the writ dooming himself to prison—analogous to the confining Q project. Amplifying the idea of prison are the topic of a lack of fairness (1) and the phrases “gentle gate” (2) and “seeming t’ rust” (12).

           A set of approbative terms (e.g., fair, gentle, bliss, goddess, grace, friend, rich, love) is a foil to an antithetical cluster (e.g., woe, mourn, debtor, nothing, foes, ill, bad).

           The opening line, in addition to housing potential bawdy in Q’s insistent eyepun such, opens with the punning variants “Eights you see, hewn odd...” and “A tease (80s...) you see, hewn ode, born Assyrian.” Lines 2-3 pun, e.g., “well-queued genital gaiety ably see in proof....”

           Family nameplays (linked with the overt plays on Will) occur. Puns such as “At suck…” (1) and “let my art Bess guard, and Sue use...” (7-8) suggest that the “she” who attracts Will’s eyes in a darkening world (13-14) may mean baby Bess (b. 1608), his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall. Other puns seem aimed at the Stratford physician Dr. John Hall, Bess’s father: e.g., “Ablest John, peer, owes Anne deeper ode; endeavor you owe ig’orant Anne....” (3-4) and “Ig’orant, eye newer foe, a God is John, Onan-oather nighs...” (4-5). Various impolite, denigrating jokes about Anne inhere in 13; one of the nicer versions is, “Anne did here a sore form, my ‘sass’ she’d earn, a seamy sauce.”

           The hidden play “sea bird o’ morn forms in seam” (5-6) is of a more polite order, as is “Edo [i.e., Tokyo], wide enough, be arid (buried homme)” (5-6). “Our menace (Harmonies...) see in jet, hisses, 8 hisses, note” (11) jokes about lack of euphony in the Runegame.

           Lines 13-14 pun, lyrically, “Snow, thistle resting were lead, ice....” Line 14 puns, e.g., “Notice allure, often Jew-hurled, is growing fob [i.e., trick, artifice],” “In Odyssey low rift eye, Jew or lady sage rowns [i.e., whispers] o’ bad,” and “World, is G-row [i.e., line 7] nice o[r] bad?’

           I deduce from finding a recurring pattern in Q that the letterstring G-row here in 14 is a conventionally encoded signal for reader/players to insert the complete form of Row G (i.e., line 7) into line 14 at that point: The resulting, expanded closing line is this: “Now this ill-wresting world is whoe’er keeps me.Let my heart be his garden so bad.” The meaning is partly that we, as confused modern readers of Q, continue to cultivate what Will has planted, anticipating us.

Sample Puns

          1) Eight [8] f--k W.H., O, knot be horny, S., Harry, know bawdy Jack; At f--k, W.H., owned, boring sir, no beauty; naughty be horn o’ S., Harry, in “O”; A tease (80s) you see, hewn ode, born Assyrian
          1-2) horny Assyrian up you tills core, W.H.; tie Jack o’er W.H.
          2) Rome ethers injure ass; Harry S., injure sulky, witty Gentile; O’er W.H., O, meteor, avengers walk; Whore Who? Meet Harry S. (John jeers); wall, queue t’ genital gate; wail; well-queued genital gaiety; Ore; O rheum [the line suggests manual manipulation of a “genital gate”]
          2-3) handle gay tables, John, proving deep Row D; o[f] meatier ass-injuries Will queued, hugging tail gay, tupless (topless)
          2-4) gay, tupless John, peruse Anne—deep, rowdy endeavor you owe “I,” grunting ever
          3) O, rue metier rough; Able ass, in proof, end th’ Row D; Anne “prowed”; endive, rue; Ablest John, peer, owes Anne deeper ode, and weary woe; John…owes Anne deep, eroding (routing) dive
          3-4) Danver[s] you owe—I grant a newer “s”
          3-5) a rogue rowned in your f--ked ass, John
          4) Eye G-rune 10 (tan), you or foe; Eve; eye newer foe
          4-5) A newer foe, a God, is John, Onan, aye naughty (a knot); I never f--k a wicked, deaf Jew (Onan I note here)
          4-6) you, rough, awe a goddess, John, on an oather’s neck, doe-eyed, an ass bare, Tom; neuer rune (reversed)
          5-6) I note here snake doe-eyed in ass buried (bare); Jew wan, Onan, oathers nicked (necked, naked), doe-eyed in ass buried; … in ass buried, homme horny is o’er me since morning: doughty Grey see; see bird o’ morn forms in seam; Edo, wide enough, be arid (buried homme)
          6) Tom, our niece or miss, in seam earn (urn) inch, doughty grace
          6-7) the gray sewer key piss, melody merdy, base
          7) W., Harry, keeps me; see, whore keeps me, Lady Merdy Bess
          7-8) guardian; W., Harry, keeps M’lady May, Howard be his guardian, Sue a friend; …keeps some lady-merd by his garden; dandy Sue-ass randy came, dead or sore
          8) sue, debtor economic puns; Sue; come did err fore, miss ache; deep, terser ms. eye
          8-9) Eye Cassio tup, injure itching Will; Sore my f--k’s “O”
          9) you banker aye see, Hen willed it (debt); Southy, O, you being rich in Will, add to thy Will; Sue, thou being rich, John will add debt; add to thy Will fore-nothing [pudendal], holed me, sewed place t’ heal; lady taught you ill
        10) Hall dim; Hall damns “O”; Fore-nothing galled me; in gold m’ Esau eyed pleas
        10-11) Old O [pictographic], Roman eye is seeing this
        10-14) dour, m’ Annie eyes seeing this, say this is not, O, love’s best habit, I sin, see m’ inch thrust, Anne, therefore, from my face she turns, my Sue S. notes ill, resting, whirled, “I’s” grown (groan) soppy, odd
        11) Our menace (Harmonies) see in jet; Whore, my Annie S.; Oar, my Aeneas see; O’er my Aeneas see, in jet, is fey Theseus; eye thesis in ode; see inch, thighs, fetuses note
        11-14) eye snot, olives, beef, the bites, John, see m’ inched, rusting, dead, hairy sore form, my saucy shit you earn, a seamy sauce notice
        12) O, loo’s beast, abbotess, eye in seam
        12-13) I sin: See my inched ruse tended Harry S.
        13) Anne did heifer form, Miss Ass-Shit earns my sauce; urn is my Sue S.; of Rome, mace’s heavy, Turnus my foe is; see shitter, an ass, mess O’s (hose); if whore of Rome misses fate, you’re an ass
        13-14) Snow, thistle resting were
        14) Know, W., thy silver sting, W., Earl, died, grown fop odd; fitting world eyes G-row, nest o’ bad; Earl’s G-rune forbade; Nov. V, this ill-resting world is grown so bad; Notice allure, often Jew-hurled, is growing fob [trick, artifice] odd; In Odyssey is ill rift; I seal rift (is Isle o’ Rest); is G-row nice o[r] bad?

Acrostic Wit

         The downward letterstring codeline—A O AIOT WAS FOOAN—suggests such decodings as these: “Aye, ’08 was fon [silly, cf. ‘fun’],” “I owe [admit] aout [i.e., August] was fon,” “Aye white…,” “Aye ‘O,’ a jot, was…,” “A weight…,” “I-0-8 weighs foe Anne,” “[A cry]. It was [a] fawn [ME young animal],” “I-0-80, weigh ass, foe Anne,” “I owe [i.e.,acknowledge] I tend to ass fon.” and “Aye weighty was Foe Anne” (one of many jokes in Q about Anne’s weight). With F=S, the line puns, “Aye Wyatt [the antecedent sonneteer] was swain”; “Aye white was swan”; and “Aye white was son,” a plausible reference to the poet’s dead son, Hamnet.

          The upward codelineNAOOF SAWT OIA OA—may be decoded, e.g., “Knave sawed away, away,” “Neigh oaf sawed, ‘Oy, Oy’,” “Naive Sue toy I owe aye,” “Nigh, oaf sought a way away,” “Enough ass owed…,” “Enough [Naif] is ode, away, away,” “Knave saw twat was fon.” “Nave [i.e., wheel hub, body of a church] sought way,” and “Naive saw [i.e., a saying] to weigh.”

          The down/up hairpin suggests, e.g., “Aye ‘08 was soon [F=S] enough sought [naive is ought/aught], away, away!” The up/down hairpin suggests “Nov. 5 [=S], [n]ought-8 [= ’08] was fon (found).” Such dateline readings are provocative but typically inconclusive.

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