LOoke in thy glaſſe and tell the face thou veweſt,
Now is the time that face ſhould forme an other,
Whoſe freſh repaire if now thou not reneweſt,
Thou doo’ſt beguile the world, vnbleſſe ſome mother.
For where is ſhe ſo faire whoſe vn-eard wombe
Diſdaines the tillage of thy huſbandry?
Or who is he ſo fond will be the tombe,
Of his ſelfe loue to ſtop poſterity?
Thou art thy mothers glaſſe and ſhe in thee
Calls backe the louely Aprill of her prime,
So thou through windowes of thine age ſhalt ſee,
Diſpight of wrinkles this thy goulden time.
But if thou liue remembred not to be,
Die ſingle and thine Image dies with thee.
Sonnet 3 is one of the most intricate of the sequence, as if particular care has been taken with it. It makes explicit the beloved’s gaze, requiring him to look upon himself in the mirror (“Looke in thy glasse”) and instruct the face he sees to “forme an other,” (The repeated “now,” picked up from Sonnet 2, emphasizes the urgency of his instruction.) To ‘form again its shape’ is Shakespeare’s rendering of metamorphosis (compare Rom. 12.2, “be ye chaunged in your shape” [BB; koinè, “μεταμορφοùσθε”]; his choice of “forme” reflects Ovid’s “forma” used often of Narcissus). 1 In shaping another the youth would resist the example of Narcissus, who looking at his face is absorbed in “selfe loue,” of which he was the archtype. “Amor sui” or “Philautia” was a common topic of emblem books identified with Narcissus through Ovid’s phrase, “uror amore mei.” 2 Whitney has an emblem entitled “Amor sui” with an impresa featuring Narcissus at the brook, verses condemning “selfe loue,” and a sidenote citing, “Ouid. Metam. lib. 3.” 3 (In Sonnet 62 it will be the poet who is possessed by the “Sinne of selfe-loue.”) The youth must not stifle the mutuality required for the begetting and perpetuating of beauty; he must not be like Narcissus, who, although engendering love in others, refused the physical touch required for generation. 4 The “fresh repaire” or unaged condition of his face must be created again in a child (“repaire,” suggestive of re + père, anticipates the homophones of the next three lines). If his condition is not replicated, then the world will be cheated (“beguiled’) and some (prospective) mother will be deprived of the blessing of a child (“vnblesse some mother”).
The poet next poses a complex rhetorical question, “For where is she so faire whose vn-eard wombe / Disdaines the tillage of thy husbandry?” ‘Husbandry’ is both the art of being a husband and skill in agriculture, particularly tilling. To ‘ear’ or ‘are’ is firstly to ‘plough’ or ‘till’ (from Old English erian = to plough); “vn-eard” intends ‘unploughed.’ An unploughed womb is one still physically intact (compare Ant. 2.2.232, “He ploughed her, and she cropt”). Being vn-eard,” the potential mother would remain untilled and unharvested of children. Secondly a womb that is “vn-eard” is a womb that has yet to be fecundated – the ear being that part of a stalk of wheat or corn, which has been pollinated and grown to fruitfulness. The poet asks where is the woman, who would refuse to have her ‘uneared’ womb made fruitful through “the tillage of thy husbandry?” Picturing the womb as wheat was traditional iconography deriving from the Song of Solomon’s blason, where the spouse’s “wombe is like a heape of wheate” [7.2; BB]. Her womb, “a garden inclosed” or hortus conclusus (4.12; GV), was subsequently identified with the Blessed Virgin, whose womb, it was popularly thought, was made fruitful through the ear at the Annunciation. (The hortus conclusus trope will be developed in Sonnet 16.) Thirdly, homophonically, a womb that is “vn-eard” is an ‘unaired’ womb, a womb or vessel that is not yet open to the air, a vessel that, like a glass bottle, is ‘stopped’ (see line 8, “stop”). The conceit of the womb as vial is taken up in, “pent in walls of glasse” (Sonnet 5.10), and, “Make sweet some viall” (Sonnet 6.3), where the womb is closed to a distillation or spirit. Where, then, is the woman, whose womb would remain unopened to the air, disdaining the youth’s “tillage,” the purpose of tilling being to air the soil? Finally, a womb that is “vn-eard” is an ‘unheired’ womb, one that has not borne an heir. Where, asks the poet, is the woman, who would disdain the youth’s tilling and husbandry and not bear an heir? (Shakespeare uses the same pun, “heyre” [heir] and “eare” [to till], in dedicating Venus and Adonis to the Earl of Southampton: “But if the first heyre of my inuention proue deformed, I shall be sory it had so noble a god-father: and neuer after eare so barren a land, for feare it yeeld me still so bad a haruest.”) 5 Alternatively the youth is addressed: “who is he so fond,” a rendering of Ovid’s ascription of Narcissus as “credule” or foolish. 6 What man would, like Narcissus, foolishly become a “tombe,” generated by (“of”) his “selfe loue,” in which future progeny will be stopped or closed off?
The poet now has recourse to the youth’s mother as an exemplum and speculum (“Thou art thy mothers glasse”). In her offspring she sees and is reminded of (“Calls backe”) her youth, “the Aprill of her prime.” April is a spring month; “prime” is both spring and the height of perfection. Ovid uses it of Narcissus, “primo in aevo” (‘in prime of age’), which Golding renders “floure of youth.” 7 Like his mother, if the youth were to beget a child, he could look back through the windows of his later age and recall his “goulden time;” tempus aureum or aetas aurea was an Ovidian hallmark. 8 He could look back “dispight of wrinkles,” those across the brow as well as those stretching from the corners of his eyes from the squinting caused by age.
The couplet is cautionary: “if thou liue remembred not to be” intends ‘if the youth lives with the intention of not being remembered’ or ‘if he live, only to be forgotten.’ (The common pun on ‘remember,’ to put the members back together’ or ‘regenerate,’ is also present.) The poet’s recriminatory risposte, “Die single,” is the fate also of Narcissus, called by Ovid, “puer unice,” a vocative indicating “single boy.” He finally warns that, in dying unmarried, not only the youth but his “Image,” that borne in the “glasse” and that to-be-born[e] in his child, will also die (or not come to be). 9
3.1. Ovid, Met. 3.416, 439, 455, 503.
3.2. Ovid, Met. 3.464.
3.3. Geoffrey Whitney, A Choice of Emblemes (Leyden: Christopher Plantyn, 1586) 149.
3.4. See Sonnet 1 and Ovid, Met. 3.353-5; Golding 3.439-42.
3.5. William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis (London: Richard Field, 1593) A2r; for further evidence of such homophones see Helge Kökeritz, Shakespeare’s Pronunciation (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1953) 90, 103, 111, 448 & 449.
3.6. Ovid, Met. 3.432.
3.7. Ovid, Met. 3.470.
3.8. Ovid, Met. 1.89.
3.9. “Image” carries the double idea of ‘air’ (likeness) and ‘heir’ in WT 5.1.123-4, “Your Fathers Image is so hit in you, / (His very ayre).” It is also Golding’s normal rendering of the Ovidian “imago.”