Sonnet 33

Shakespeare Sonnet 33

FVll many a glorious morning haue I ſeene,
Flatter the mountaine tops with ſoueraine eie,
Kiſſing with golden face the meddowes greene;
Guilding pale ſtreames with heauenly alcumy:
Anon permit the baſeſt cloudes to ride,
With ougly rack on his celeſtiall face,
And from the for-lorne world his viſage hide
Stealing unſeene to weſt with this diſgrace:
Euen ſo my Sunne one early morne did ſhine,
With all triumphant ſplendor on my brow,
But out alack, he was but one houre mine,
The region cloude hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this, my loue no whit diſdaineth,
Suns of the world may ſtaine, whê heauens ſun ſtainteh.              when  staineth

Sonnet 33’s crux concerns its last line, “Suns of the world may staine, when heauens sun staineth,” where the play on sun and son adds layers of meaning, to which allusions in the preceding lines contribute. Its opening trope, of the sun’s gathering effect, is reminiscent of Philip of France’s speech in King John,

To solemnize this day the glorious sunne
Stayes in his course, and playes the Alchymist,
Turning with splendor of his precious eye
The meager cloddy earth to glittering gold. (3.1.75-8)

Here “Full many” indicates the numerous glorious mornings, that are the subject of “Flatter” and subsequent verbs. “Flatter” suggests an element of artificial improvement and veneer: the morning “with soueraine eie” (the sun), when rising, adds a patina of colour to the “mountaine tops,” which it strikes first. It is the first of a range of references evoking courtly behaviour: “Flatter,” “soueraine,” “Kissing.” As the sun rises, the morning is seen as “Kissing,” touching lightly, “with golden face the meddowes greene,” turning the surface green of the grass to a richer yellow. Its rising light, cast on the translucent (“pale”) waters of streams, is seen to gild or turn them golden with “heauenly alcumy;” “heauenly” because the source of change is from the sun; “alcumy” or alchemy, is the pseudo-science, known for changing base metals into gold.

“Anon” intends shortly or presently. The “glorious morning” allows (“permit”) “the basest cloudes to ride / With ougly rack on his celestiall face.” The “basest cloudes” are either clouds that are lowest in the sky, or the darkest, or the those full of most unhealthy vapours (cf. Sonnet 34.3-4, “bace cloudes . . rotten smoke”); “basest” contrasts in rank with “soueraine” and extends the alchemical allusion. The “rack” of “ougly rack” is complex: “rack” first suggests a ‘grid’ of clouds, but clouds technically are said to “rack” or build up in the sky and “ougly” then implies something ‘threatening;’ as well a horse is said to “rack,” a gait that is a half-trot, which ties in with “ride” and where “ougly” intends ‘uncomfortable.’ The morning thus allows the clouds to ride or pile up and cover its heavenly (“celestiall”) face. Once done, it hides its “visage” or ‘face’ from the world that it has abandoned (“for-lorne”), as, like a thief, it steals away “vnseene” to the west – the conflation of morning and sun is now complete – with the mass of black clouds (“this disgrace”) hiding it.

The sestet allows two readings: either “my Sunne” is this present morning – a lesser reading – or “my Sunne” is the poet’s friend – the more cogent reading. The “he” of the sestet could be either. If it is identified as the youth, then the young man has gazed down upon the poet’s “brow” or face, “with all triumphant splendour.” Yet the moment of conquest was brief, for the poet complains, “But out alack, he was but one houre mine,” where “out alack” is an intensified ‘alas.’ The reason implied in the octet for the short morning stay is the departure by horse of either the youth or the poet – in next sonnet it becomes clear that it is the poet who leaves – as he rides off into the “region cloude.” (The sonnet is a kind of aubade, except that it is the clouds rather than the sun that interferes.) The “region cloude” means ‘local’ cloud or, since the atmosphere was divided into upper, middle, and lower regions, the ‘lowest’ or “basest” cloud; “region” (from regere = to rule) recalls the courtly “soueraigne” above and ties in with “mask’d,” primarily meaning ‘hidden,’ but evoking the ‘masks’ and ‘masques,’ that were features of courtly activity. 1

Yet the poet’s disaffection in no way (“no whit”) leads him to “disdain” or hold the friend in contempt. The final line, which gives the reason for his refusal to cast blame, is ambiguous. Either great people of the world (“Suns of the world”) may sin, since the sun of heaven stains or is in “disgrace;” hence the youth’s sin is permitted; or all men (‘Sons of the world’) may sin, since the sun of heaven stains; the youth may accordingly offend. As well, “heauens sun” homonymically evokes ‘heaven’s son’ or ‘son of heaven,’ which begins a range of Christic echoes culminating in the references to the crucifixion at the end of Sonnet 34. The coming of Christ again is described as “then shall appeare the signe of the sonne of man, in heauen: And then shall all . . see the sonne of man comming in the cloudes of heauen, with power and great glory” (Matt. 24.30; BB). Accompanying the crucifixion was the eclipse of the sun, when “darknesse arose ouer all the earth” (Mark 15.33, BB; the Geneva Version notes, “the Sunne shined ouer all the rest of the worlde, and at midday, that corner of the worlde, wherein so wicked an act was committed, was ouercouered with most grosse darkenesse”). Despite the allusions to the crucifixion, it can only be coincidental that they should occur at Sonnet 33, the age at which Christ was customarily thought to have died.


33.1. Compare Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 22.1-3, “In highest way of heauen the Sunne did ride . . Hauing no maske of Clowdes before his face.”