Sonnet 72

Shakespeare Sonnet 72

O Leaſt the world ſhould taske you to recite,
What merit liu’d in me that you ſhould loue
After my death (deare loue) for get me quite,
For you in me can nothing worthy proue.
Vnleſſe you would deuiſe ſome vertuous lye,
To doe more for me then mine owne deſert,
And hang more praiſe vpon deceaſed I,
Then nigard truth would willingly impart:
O leaſt your true loue may ſeeme falce in this,
That you for loue ſpeake well of me vntrue,
My name be buried where my body is,
And liue no more to ſhame nor me, nor you.
For I am ſhamd by that which I bring forth,
And ſo ſhould you, to loue things nothing worth.

Sonnet 72 continues the epicedial topos of Sonnet 71 and repeats its argument, although here the poet assigns himself a common grave, disowning the right to a catafalque on which verses might be hung; praises of his name will be hung on his dead body and buried with him.

The sonnet’s opening “O Least the world” takes up from Sonnet 71’s concluding “Least the wise world.” To prevent the world from requiring the friend (“taske you”) to “recite / What merit liu’d in me,” the poet asks that he be forgotten. To “recite” intends ‘to pronounce aloud,’ ‘to rehearse,’ or even ‘to put into writing.’ The “merit” is that which the youth loves in the poet or that which causes him to love the poet. He must “forget” the poet, because he can neither find nor attest to anything of worth in him.

Unless, the poet admits, the friend should “deuise some vertuous lye;” “deuise” means ‘invent,’ but strongly suggests both a ‘device’ as a short ingenious verse and a ‘device’ or impresa beraring heraldic arms, both of which were attached to hearses (compare Taylor’s description of a “Hearse richly behung with Scutcheons, Deuices, Mottoes, and Impresses”). 1 The friend might, then, compose an epitaph for the poet, but it would be “some vertuous lye,” a lie that implies virtue or appears strongly credible. The “lye” would exaggerate the poet’s standing more than he deserves (“doe more for me then mine owne desert”). Attached to the “deceased” poet, the device of the friend’s lies would afford more praise than truth, sparingly spoken, would allow (“nigard truth would willingly impart”). Niggardliness, associated with “that churle death” in Sonnet 32, suggests ‘grudgingly’ in opposition to ‘willingly.’

To avoid the friend’s “true loue” becoming subverted by devising a lie (“in this”), namely that he should for the sake of their love (“for loue”) speak favourably but untruly (“vntrue”) of the poet, the friend must let the poet’s name be interred with his body (“My name be buried where my body is”). With the poet’s name now resting anonymously in the grave, the friend will bring “shame” neither to himself nor the poet (“nor me, nor you”). The couplet points to the poet’s modesty: “For I am shamd by that which I bring forth:” either the actions to which his argument gives rise or, with poetic childbirth and not death in mind, by his own devices. So ought the friend also be ashamed, for loving someone in whom “nothing worthy” is found and for loving the unworthy poems that issue forth from him.

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72.1. John Taylor, All the Workes of Iohn Taylor The Water Poet. Being 63 in number. Collected into One Volum by the Author (London: I[ohn] B[eale] et al., 1630) 89.

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