Sonnet 69

Shakespeare Sonnet 69

THoſe parts of thee that the worlds eye doth view,
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend:
All toungs (the voice of ſoules) giue thee that end,                ?due
Vttring bare truth, euen ſo as foes Commend.
Their outward thus with outward praiſe is crownd,               Thy
But thoſe ſame toungs that giue thee ſo thine owne,
In other accents doe this praiſe confound
By ſeeing farther then the eye hath ſhowne.
They looke into the beauty of thy mind,
And that in gueſſe they meaſure by thy deeds,
Then churls their thoughts (although their eies were kind)
To thy faire flower ad the rancke ſmell of weeds,
But why thy odor matcheth not thy ſhow,
The ſolye is this, that thou doeſt common grow.                 ſoyle

Sonnet 69 works the distinction, found often in the sequence, between the external which the eye sees and the internal which the heart discerns. The distinction can be observed in Sonnet 46’s conclusion, “mine eyes due is their outward part, / And my hearts right, their inward loue of heart.” (The use of “due” there supports the emendation of “end” to “due” in line 3 here, “due” in secretary hand being easily mistaken for “end.”) The friend’s features that are available to the public gaze (“Those parts of thee that the worlds eye doth view”) don’t require any remedying (“mend”) that deeply felt thought could provide. The phrase, “the thought of heart” was epithetic and, associated with “tongue,” was available to Shakespeare both in Harrington’s Orlando Furioso, “By thought of heart the speech of tongue is carid,” and as an anthologized entry under “heart” in Robert Albott’s Englands Parnassus. 1 Every tongue that gives voice to inner reason (“the voice of soules”) awards the friend what is his due: the simple (“bare”) truth about his outward appearance. They praise him in the way that his enemies must praise him (“euen so as foes Commend”). What he displays outwardly is thus celebrated (“crowned”) publicly and gracefully, not boorishly like a churl.

But the same tongues, which render what is owed the youth in the public arena (“giue thee so thine owne”), either ‘undercut’ or ‘confuse’ (“confound”) that praise in other voices (“other accents;” to “confounde . . language” was the standard translation of Babel’s punishment [Genesis 11.7; BB]). They can penetrate beyond public display, discern the “beauty” of the youth’s mind, and, using his actions as a gauge (“by thy deeds”), estimate the beauty’s extent (“measure”), even if only approximately (“in guess”). Such tongues, by synecdoche men, the poet terms “churles,” of common birth but also surly and lacking fluency or grace. (The mark of the churl, according to Wilson, is not language but the grunt: “churles [are said] to grunt.”) 2 Even though they looked smilingly on the youth (“their eies were kind”), their “thoughts” add to his “faire flower,” his outward perfection, the “rancke smell of weeds,” a fetid stench.

The couplet explains why his offensive inner (“odor”) isn’t matched by his outer display (“show” is technically a flower’s display): “solye” is a mis-composed “soyle,” or ‘soil,’ which in its verb form means ‘to solve’ (Cooper’s Thesaurus translates, “Quaestionem persoluere,” as “To soile a question”). 3 Shakespeare has used the word as a noun meaning the ‘ground’ or ‘reason’ for a claim; his choice would have been reinforced by the suggestion of ‘soil,’ in which flowers and weeds grow, of ‘soil’ as an ‘offence’ or ‘rankness,’ and of ‘soil’ as sexual intercourse (compare MM 5.1.141-42, “Who is as free from touch, or soyle with her / As she from one vngot”). The disparity between the inner and outer is caused by the youth’s having grown “common:” either he has become like a commoner or churl, or has demeaned himself like a weed on a common, or, finally, has been publicly, familiarly or much used.


69.1. Ariosto 27.107; Robert Albott, Englands Parnassus: Or the Choysest Flowers of our Moderne Poets (London: N[icholas] Ling, 1600) 129, “By thought of heart, the speech of tongue is carried. S. I. Harr. Tran.” Harrington’s line is his own and corresponds to nothing in Ariosto.

69.2. Wilson 152.

69.3. Cooper, Thesaurus persolvere. Just possibly ‘soyle’ or ‘soil’ could be an aphetic ‘assoil,’ meaning a ‘solving,’ compare Puttenham 157, “riddle (Enigma) of which the sence can hardly be picked out, but by the parties owne assoile.”