On the Literary Genetics of Shakspere's Poems & Sonnets

By T. W. Baldwin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
Tempus Edax Rerum, But Not of All in All

SERIES III: SONNETS LIII-LXXVII

As we have seen, Sonnet LIII is another in the developing sequence of all in all, and all in every part addressed to the patron. (1) Why does the friend have millions of shadows, when every one else has but one, (2) he is Adonis and Helen, (3) he is spring and autumn

And you in every blessed shape we know
(4) In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you for constant heart.

This is one of the sonnets built on the Plotinian doctrine of the soul as phrased in the Southampton motto. Here the friend is Adonis, and Shakspere had dedicated Adonis to Southampton. The shadow idea had started in Sonnet XXVII, had been developed in Sonnet XLIII, which is a reworking of Sonnet XXVII, and now gets put into the main theme, in sequence to "hearts" and "hearts." In Sonnets XXVII and XLIII the shadow idea was evolved. Now in LIII it is assumed and put into the service of this major theme.

Since Sonnet LIII specifically praises "all external grace" of beauty, but subordinates it in the couplet to" constant heart," naturally Sonnet LIV must praise the internal grace of truth. (1) Beauty is ornamented by truth; the rose of beauty should have the sweet odor of truth, (2) the canker-blooms have the same external items of beauty as the roses, (3) but since they have only their external show, they are not made into odors as are the roses.

(4) And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall fade, my verse distills your truth.

Here is another turn to Sidney's figure of distillation, treated from the original in Sonnet V. There beauty was to be distilled and preserved by procreation. Now when beauty fades, truth is to remain distilled in the poet's verse. So Sonnet LIV is the later treatment.

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