Sonnet 56

Shakespeare Sonnet 56

Sweet loue renew thy force, be it not ſaid
Thy edge ſhould blunter be then apetite,
Which but too daie by feeding is alaied,
To morrow ſharpned in his former might.
So loue be thou, although too daie thou fill
Thy hungry eies, euen till they winck with fulneſſe,
Too morrow ſee againe, and doe not kill
The ſpirit of Loue, with a perpetual dulneſſe:
Let this ſad Intrim like the Ocean be
Which parts the ſhore, where two contracted new,
Come daily to the banckes, that when they ſee:
Returne of loue, more bleſt may be the view.
As cal it Winter, which being ful of care,
Makes Sõmers welcome, thrice more wiſh’d, more rare:

Sonnet 56 is the first of three sonnets that address “loue,” initially in the general vocative and subsequently as Cupid. Later the address to Cupid as love is overlaid and conflated with an address to the youth as love.

The sonnet’s opening invocation, “Sweet loue,” is directed not at a person (as in Sonnets 76.9 and 79.5) but at the poet’s own capacity for physical love. “Sweet loue” was a frequent appellation for Cupid, 1 while instructing desire to “renew thy force” was commmonplace (see Spenser’s Amoretti 14.1, “Retourne agayne my forces”). The poet contrasts the gap between the abatement and renewal of physical hunger with the interval between the satisfaction (with the sadness of its aftermath) and renewal of sexual hunger:” “loue” must not allow it to be claimed that, “Thy edge should blunter be then apetite.” To ‘blunt’ or ‘take the edge off something’ was proverbial, while to ‘sharpen’ the appetite or ‘make it keener’ is found elsewhere in the sequence (see Sonnet 118.1, “Like as to make our appetites more keene”). The interval between “too daie,” when physical hunger (“apetite”) is satisfied by being fed, and “To morrow,” when it is whetted (“sharpned”) to its former strength, should also obtain for desire (“So loue be thou” means ‘love be yourself like that’). Although love might today “fill thy hungry eyes” to the extent that drowsiness overwhelms them and they shut with satiety (“wink with fulness”), tomorrow they must be sharp-eyed again (playing with the common Latin pun, acies = ‘edge’ and ‘sharp-eyed’). “The spirit of loue” must not be killed by a “perpetuall dulnesse,” both a lack of edge or sharpness and a droopy melancholy. Iconically lechery was identified with gluttony through the eyes: Spenser has lechery with “whally eyes” and depicts Gluttony as, “with fatnesse swollen were his eyne” (FQ 4.24.3 & 4.21.4). In Amoretti, adapting Golding’s ascription to Narcissus of “greedie eyes,” he sees himself with “hungry eyes.” 2

The sestet focusses on the passage between today’s spending and tomorrow’s reinvigorating, which it defines as “this sad Intrim.” An ‘interim’ is an intervening period of time, place or season, and was used specifically of a passage or journey which turns dullness into a lively spirit. The ‘interim of journey’ and the ‘interim of travail’ were stock expressions for separation of time and place when touring. Thomas Palmer in An Essay of . . trauailes argues that the ‘interim of journey’ overcomes dullness of spirit: youths, he states, should be

well guided & instructed, in the interim of their iourny (for trauell to some bodies are as new birthes; that beare them, of dull mindes and sowre, good quicke and sweete conuersing spirits. 3

Let this sad interstice, the poet argues, between expense and revitalizing, but now also between himself and the friend, not be a separation where an everlasting (“perpetual”) dullness kills the “spirit of Loue.” Rather let the distance between them be like the Ocean, a breach with two shores where two newly betrothed lovers or where two lovers recently contracted into each other’s eyes (“two contracted new”) come daily. 4 Because the return of love has been eagerly awaited, when it does occur, it will be treasured the more (“more blest may be the view”). The couplet picks up a pun on “Intrim,” meaning ‘season,’ and “sad Intrim,” intending ‘sad season’ or winter. The “sad Intrim” might just as easily be called winter (“As cal it Winter”) which, full of worry and discontent (“care”), makes the welcome that summer receives three times more desired or precious (“thrice more wish’d, more rare”).


56.1. See Griffin, Fidessa 10.1 & 43.1.

56.2. Spenser, Amoretti 35.1-4; Golding 3.546.

56.3. Thomas Palmer, An Essay of the Meanes how to make our Trauailes, into forraine Countries, the more profitable and honourable (London: Humphrey Lownes 1606) 16.

56.4. Compare TN 1.1.9-11, where the “spirit of Loue” is called upon to be “quicke and fresh . . That notwithstanding thy capacitie / Receiueth as the Sea.”