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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 XI, Runes 141-154: Texts and Comments 
Copyright © Roy Neil Graves 2004, All Rights Reserved        

Proceed to Rune 152
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Rune 151
Eleventh lines, Set XI (Sonnets 141-154)

                         Rune 151

     (Eleventh lines, Set XI: Sonnets 141-154)

     Who leaves unswayed, the likeness of a man,
     Root pity in thy heart. That, when it grows—
     But if thou catch thy hope—turn back to me;
 4  But being both from me, both to each friend,
     Doth follow night. Who like a fiend
     Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross,
     My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are!
 8  No marvel, then, though I mistake my view
     When all my best doth worship thy defect,
     O, though I love what others do abhor,
     He is contented thy poor drudge to be,
12 And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness.
     I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
     Growing a bath and healthful remedy.
     Glosses: 1) Who leaves unswayed: i.e., You who didn’t inspire (or bother to turn these...) pages; 2) That = pity; 3) But = Only; 4) being both: i.e., Both you and your pity being...; both (the second time) = you and I; 5) Doth follow night: i.e., Night comes (pun: Knight, perhaps Nate [Field, the boy actor]); 10) puns (in a line suggesting unnatural love): eye (with bawdy innuendo); pudendal or anal “O,” phallic “I”; 11) He (ambig.) suggests night; a fiend (see 5); my best (see 9), punning on “beast”;12) puns: to (twice) = two (eyes); eyes = ayes; 13) I puns on eye, aye; 14) Growing echoes leaves (1), Root, grows (2); bath and...remedy allude to “your pity” (see 2).

     151. A Madman’s Thoughts and Discourse

     You who leave me coldly, who stand like a rigid plant unmoved by wind, who have failed as a muse for writers, looking like a man but acting otherwise,
     learn to cultivate feeling in your heart, and, when it grows—
     something that will happen only if you sense where your real future and your chance for immortality lie—direct that feeling back toward me;
  4 but with me lacking both you and your pity, and with you two being inextricably linked,
     night comes on. Like fiends
     trying to gain something eternal by losing their mundane hours,
     my thoughts and my discourse are both crazy.
  8 It’s no wonder, then—though my view of things is irrational
     when my best self worships your flawed character,
     O, and though I love what others despise—
     that that best self is contented to slave away nights in your service
12 and, to try to make you see the light and to bring vision in darkness, has nearly gone blind.
     I, sick on top of everything else, have needed some balm
     even as here I grow these “leaves” to spur the growth of your pity, which would cure me.


         One who reads the text of Rune 151 with sober respect and tries to ignore the always distracting game elements in the lines may hear Will, as the speaking persona, contemplating his role as a writer in the service of a subject who does not turn to acknowledge his work. (In that sense the poem is like Rune 150.) Organic figures of “growth” and of light and darkness stem from the punning opening apostrophe, “You who’ve failed to inspire leaves [of verse] or have affected them adversely….” If the listening friend, Will’s unnamed auditor, can “root pity in [his] heart” and let it “grow” (2), the dearth in the poet’s verses will be alleviated. (Elsewhere in Q, the pun rose/rows describes these lines.)

          Among the terms that imply natural organic processes are leaves (1), Root, grows (2), and Growing (14). Less directly, diction in the poem amplifies the motif of light and dark, of sun and shade: In the world of the poem, water and sun equal health, while “dross” and darkness need “remedy” (14). “Catch thy hope” (3) hints at catching the sun’s rays—a pattern that contrasts with “follow night” (5). “Enlighten” (12) expands this image cluster, as does the notion of water as a balm (13-14).

          The fact is that line 1 evokes an edenic image of Creation, generating “the likeness of a man,” with a coy, suggestive pun about Adam’s figleaf in the wordstring “leave’s unswayed.” (Is the leaf fixed and unflappable?) Jokingly, too, the poem opens with the pun “Howl, [Holy; Wholly..] Eve’s sons we are, deathly kin soft. Amen!” The end-pun “fe-man/semen” coexists. The “heart/hard” that “grows” (see 2) has phallic implications.

          Other image clusters in the poem are about sickness and health, travel, and religion.

          Terms about sickness and health include heart (2); defect (9); the gauze to blindness (12), echoing eye, mistake my view (8); sick (13); healthful remedy (14); and a description of madness (7).

          Terms about travel include leaves (1, a pun); being ...from me (4); follow (5); and “my Dis-course, a ‘summit’ my end sere” (7). The last, a playful paradox, uses Dante’s name for the capital of hell—Dis—to pun, “my path to hell.”

          The word “likeness” (1) triggers an image cluster about religion because the term puns on “icon” and “capacity for adoration” (a neologism). Topical correlations include pity, heart, hope, turn back, follow, fiend, divine, marvel, mistake my view, worship, love, abhor, contented, enlighten, and suggestions of vision and baptism. “Ribbed” and “Noah Age,” implications in the acrostic codeline (see below), reinforce a playful preoccupation with religious topics.

          The phrase “catch thy hope” (3)—an inversion of “mistake my view” (8)—compresses a directive to the “departing” friend that time has proven accurate: i.e., “Know that your future resides with me as the writer who will make you immortal.” “Doth follow night” (5), a linked expression, implies metaphysical darkness but also may tell us literally that Will writes at night, expending “hours of dross” (6).

          Since the word catch to Will meant a ludicrous round sung with voices overlapping (OED 1601), that terms puns on round / rune as a raucous, confusing song. Adjacent puns in line 3, e.g., include, “But [i.e., Only] if thou catch, thy hope t’ rune be asked of me” and “Bawdy fit [i.e., stanza], oh, you catch, typed: a rune bays, key t’ tome.”

          Some terms comment indirectly on the challenging, mind-testing genre we see being practiced: Line 7 rightfully asserts, “My ideas and mode of rhetoric here are those of a crazy person.” And “oathers” (pun 10) encodes “coterie members bound by oaths of secrecy.”

          Other puns in the text have bawdy insinuations: e.g., “Knight, howl: I kiss end bawdier, mess divine; I end selling whores” (5-6) and “thy poured rouge to bind” (11-12, sketching a fussy courtier). Line 2 encodes phallic bawdry, with plays in root, heart/hard, and “wen [i.e., protuberance], it grows.” The usual suggestion of testicles lurks in “blind eyes” (12), and line 14 suggests ejaculation. Phallic “growth” is one subject here.

          The whole poem, in fact, can be read in phallic terms, with “fiendishly following night,” “worshipping thy defect,” and “loving what others abhor” implying homoerotic modes of affection. He in line 11 may mean the speaker’s member. “Wen, awl, my beast doth worship the hideous etc.” (9) is a concurrent joke.

          “I seek Whitehall, the help of Bath desired” (13) is a topical pun of a different order. Whitehall is a metonymy for “the government,” while Bath offered healing waters.

          The poem manages incidental rhymes (me / be / remedy) and has other near-rhymes and end-terms linked by sound (e.g., friend / fiend; are / abhor; and grows/ dross).

Sample Puns

          1) fey O-semen; John [W=IN], wholly using Sue, hard, he lacking (licking; liking) ass of a man; Holiest V, an ass warty like an ass of a man
          1-2) Holy son of war did ally ken, ass o’ seaman rude; W.H., O, leave son of Waite the likeness of a man, root pity in thy heart; licking ass, face a man-root, pitying thy hard…; my end-row debate, tainting high art; semen rue, debating thy hard
          1-3) …O, leave son sweet (Leveson, Swede), the likeness of a man-root pitying—thy hard that, when it grows, butts thou catch
          2) W., Hen, eyed G-row as bawdy fit; eye T.T., aye, entire T.T.; in Tyre, T.T. hied whinnied jeers
          2-3) in thigh, here T.T. had wen, it grows beauteous; hard, t’ Hathaway knight grows bawdiest hook—8 [inches] shitty, hooped; the twinned, gross butt eye, Southy, see it shit
          3) catch round, rune; thy H-obit [“ladder’s” death-knell] you rune; shitty-heaped your neb, eye sick tome bawdy; But if thou cat see, type turn back, Tommy; …cat see high, tipped urn
          3-4) eye, Southy, caged Hi-ho!—Peter in Habakkuk tome (to me) bawdy baying; be a Sikh to m’ abbot, being both ass or homme, maybe oded witch of rune (serene; siren); too, thy yawp t’ urn be a Sikh tome bawdy; Turn back tome, Beauty being both of Rome, bawdy, to each friend
          4-5) fair homme, my bawdy twitches runed oaths hollow
          5) Doth felony get W.H.?
          5-6) Knight Holy kiss, eye indebiter; A sign debate, Hermes divine, unfeeling whores; Do this allow, knight, who like (lick) ass, “I,” (“eye”), end by terms; …bitter ms. divine in feeling whore soft, Row F (C, S); a sane debate hear, misty wine eye
          5-7) Do the solo whinnied howl, aye giving debate or, missed (ms.’d), eye whinnies hell (hail) injure asses dour o’ Semite, haughty ass handy
          6) Hermes, divine John, feeling whore’s ass-dross; D-rows; whore’s austere O’s; aye Nantes Hen jars; Hermes’ divine ancile (…ancille) lingers oft
          6-7) Sad Row F [i.e., 6] cement, you jet sand mid high F-course, eye cement, my answer; lying juries, oft rough, Semite, ought assent; D-rows hymn yet how Addison dim ye discover, see a Semite man sour; Bitty Hermes’ divine anvil injures oft rows’ empty Hugh-jets and Midas’ whores
          7) Empty, haughty, sinned Midas
          7-8) Adam in Surinam aye ruled; see, Orpheus, my demons are no marvel t’ entomb; saint, my deafest whore seize, madam in Surinam aye reveled (eye revealed)
          7-9) deaf, see Orpheus made men serene, Homer, veiled in th’ huge hymns t’ ache, mewn (…t’ aye commune)
          8) Know m’ earl’d Hen, t’ whom I, fit, aye came (…t’ whom I fed aye come); Gnome, our veil thin in th’ “O,” you gamy ass, take my view
          8-9) eye communal my bested oath; a comey wound a Limey best (beast) doth worship
          9-10) W., Hen., awl, my beast, doth worship th’ hideous ass “O,” th’ “O” huge I (phallic “I”) love, what others do abhor
          9-11) see Tottel ode (owed) oathers [cf. T’s Miscellany 1557, including Wyatt and Surrey], top Horace[’] content, Ed; the warship Thetis-ass taught how jelly-white oathers do abhor his cunt-end: Ed, the wiper-drudge
        10-11) Oathers daub Houri’s (Harry’s) cunt-end, didie poured rouge; O, though I love you, Hat., others do a boar hiss (…eye Boris); whore’s cunt-ended, thy poor drudge to be
        11-12) Ed, thy porter huge, Toby, ended Owen (…anally jetting thee; …the gauzes, too; …the gusto blinding ass[es]); Hiss, see Auntie, Anne titty-poor drudge; Eddie poured rouge to be handy, to enlighten the Jew
        12-13) Anne, to enlighten the cows, tup London asses, eye sick (I f--k) Whitehall; the gauze to blindness I seek; to Belinda, an ass, I sick Wit Hall, the help of Bath deferred; toppling din efface (Dublin Dennis eyes), I seek Whitehall
        13) lady’ll piss-bath desire; Whitehall tile, peace, bad (bait) heady sire, Ed; Whitehall tile pave bad head’s ire (bated sire); I f--k widow (Wit Hall) lady, hell-piss both desired; Wit Hall the help of bath desired 12-14 cf. the blind man and the Pool of Siloam (St. John 9:1ff.)
        13-14) blind, an ass sea-sick, Wit Hall…; fire, Dick, our Owen gay be 8 handy; our Edgar [cf. Lear] Owen [Glendower?] gay bade (paid)
        14) G-row enjoy…; eye both and deal (dull) th’ sole rhyme, Eddie; a bad hand held has you leer [empty], m’ Eddie; bait hand held eisell remedy; healthful, our maid Y; th’ fool rhymed, why?

Acrostic Wit

          The elements of the downward acrostic—WR BB D BM NW OH AIG—encourage a reader/player to note the letterstring BM and thus to scout out scatology. The codestring also spells out “New Age” and “Noah Age” (code NW OHAIG) and a potentially edenic play on “ribbed” (code RBBD). Since B may stand for 8 (and phonic eight), as in modern text-messaging, possible readings multiple here, including these samples: “Where baby’d B.M., new ‘O’ eye,” “Where be bed, be my Anne witch,” “Weir, baby’d B.M. in wedge,” “…in witch,” “Were baby t’ B.M., new itch,” “Warped B.M. in woe-edge [i.e., the hard acrostic line],” “We’re baby dumb, in woe itch,” and “W. rubbed item [and, presto, a...]: New Age” (with code BM = 8M = item). The last reading focuses on Will as a godlike magician. Thus the first line may be a question, with the implicit answer “Will is Creator here.”

           “Edge” (meaning “margin” and “knife”) implies the acrostic row. Thus the reading “W. ‘ribbed’ item: New Edge” makes sense as a codeline reading.

          The (contiguous) text of Rune 150 depicts Will as an importuning babe., and the acrostic seems to expand that idea as if the topic were on the poet’s mind

           The upward (reverse) code or Rune 151—GIAHOWN M BD BB RW—opens with an insistent play on John, possibly Will’s son-in-law. Readings of the codeline include, e.g., “John, maybe, th’ baby rue”; “Join m’ bed, be bare. [signed] W.”; “John, m’ bed be bare (...barrow; burrow). W.”; “Gown, maybe, dip, Brrrr! W.”; “Join m’ bed, be bier”; “Join my bed: Burrow”; “Jew in m’ bed be bare. W.”; “Join my B, the [my bitty] BB Row”; “Jawing may be deep, bare VV [fangs]”; “Join, maybe, Devereux (DeBrough?),” and “Jew-name be Devereux (DeBrough?).”

           The down/up hairpin codeline suggests, e.g., “Were ’88 [a]date [B=8], my new-age John made ’88 row [i.e., the ‘row’ of ’88, the Armada year]”; “…my Noah-edge join, mate, 88 row”; and/or “Warped B.M. and witch join my bad burrow.” This “burrow” suggests the “bad pockets” in Dante’s Inferno and may also echo “rotten borough.”

           The up/down hairpin suggests, e.g., “John, maybe ‘Devereux’ write—bad item, new age.”

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