VVHere art thou Muſe that thou forgetſt ſo long,
To ſpeake of that which giues thee all thy might?
Spendſt thou thy furie on ſome worthleſſe ſonge,
Darkning thy powre to lend baſe ſubiects light,
Returne forgetfull Muſe, and ſtraight redeeme,
In gentle numbers time ſo idely ſpent,
Sing to the eare that doth thy laies eſteeme,
And giues thy pen both skill and argument.
Riſe reſty Muſe, my loues ſweet face ſuruay,
If time haue any wrincle grauen there,
If any, be a Satire to decay,
And make times ſpoiles diſpiſed euery where.
Giue my loue fame faſter then time waſts life,
So thou preuenſt his ſieth, and crooked knife.
Sonnet 100 is the first in a series concerned with the muse, initially the muse on which the ancient poets called, whose whereabouts the poet questions, given its silence and its continually neglecting to give expression to its potency (“which giues thee all thy might”). His second query addresses the muse’s poetic dynamic: towards what does it now direct its “furie?” Classical ‘fury’ was the enthusiasm or frenzy proceeding from the Muses that inspired the poet or prophet, termed by Plato in the Phaedo ‘mania’ (μανια: ‘A fury possessed from the Muses . . which stirs up a frenzy and awakens lays and other numbers’) and by Cicero “furor” or ‘fury,’ (‘if that prophesying has burned more fiercely, it is called fury, when the soul, withdrawn from the body, is stirred up by a divine impulse’). 1 The poet asks if the Muse is wasting its “furie” on less worthy endeavours (“worthlesse song”); is it obscuring or diminishing (“Darkning”) its power, so that it can enlighten a lesser (“base”) subject?
The “forgetfull Muse” is instructed without delay (“straight”) to “redeeme / In gentle numbers time so idely spent.” To ‘redeem the time,’ meaning ‘to save time from being lost’ or ‘not to spend time idly,’ was a rendering of the Vulgate’s “tempus redimentes,” found in Colossians in the context of using inspiration profitably: “that God may open vnto vs the doore of vtteraunce, that we may speake ye misterie of Christ . . That I may vtter it, as I ought to speake . . redeemyng the tyme” (4.3-5; BB). 2 The muse must not waste time idly, but devote it to “gentle numbers,” noble verses that are not “base.” It must inspire the ear of a poet, who values its songs (“laies”) and can give to the muse’s “pen” both “skill and argument;” “argument” is that which is laid out in the second part of rhetoric, Dispositio, while “pen” and feather were customarily associated with the muse. 3
The “resty Muse,” that is instructed to rouse itself (“Rise”), is an idle muse or one that needs stirring up (“resty” was used of refractory horses: Florio gives under “Restio,” “reastie as some horses are, idle, lazie, backward, slowe, slug, slack”). It must look upon (“survay”) the beloved’s face to determine if “time haue any wrincle grauen there.” The other biblical occurrence of “Redeemyng the time” (Eph. 5.16: BB) is followed closely by the image of “not hauyng . . wrinckle” (5.27); “grauen” suggests lines etched in the face with an engraving instrument (a knife?). If time were to have disfigured the youth’s face, then the muse must subject the decay time brings to censure (“be a Satire”); it must make the “spoiles” of time, both that to which it lays waste and that which it takes as plunder, everywhere the object of ridicule (“despised”). “Satire” evokes its origin, ‘satyr,’ the Greek figure with the ears and tail of a horse, associated with the ‘satyrs,’ who formed the chorus in ancient Greek satiric drama and whose function was one of censure. Finally the muse must advance the beloved’s “fame faster then time wasts life.” Continuing renown will outstrip time’s spoiling, because the poetry the muse inspires will obtain everlasting fame. 4 It will outstrip (“preuenst”) time’s scythe and its “crooked knife,” a knife that is both bent and perverse. (A “culter curvus” or crooked knife was “the parte of a sickle toward the handle.”) 5
100.1. Plato, Phaedrus 245.A, “’απο Μουσων κατακωχη τε και μανια . . ’εγειρουσα και ’εκβακχευουσα κατα τε ’ωδας και κατα την ’αλλην ποιησιν.” Cicero, De Divinatione 1.31.66, “Ea (praesagitio) si exarsit acrius, furor appellatur, cum a corpore animus abstractus divino instinctu concitatur.”
100.2. The phrase’s other occurrence, Eph. 5.16, is the basis for Hal’s foretelling his conversion in 1H4 1.2.241, “Redeeming time, when men thinke least I will.”
100.3. See Sonnet 78, commentary.
100.4. Compare Ovid, Met. 15.878, “perque omnia saecula fama . .vivam.”
100.5. Cooper, Thesaurus culter.