Sonnet 75

Shakespeare Sonnet 75

SO are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as ſweet ſeaſon’d ſhewers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold ſuch ſtrife,
As twixt a miſer and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an inioyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will ſteale his treaſure,
Now counting beſt to be with you alone,
Then betterd that the world may ſee my pleaſure,
Some-time all ful with feaſting on your ſight,
And by and by cleane ſtarued for a looke,
Poſſeſſing or purſuing no delight
Saue what is had, or muſt from you be tooke.
Thus do I pine and ſurfet day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.                              .

The miser who starves himself to accumulate wealth, on which he will feast only by looking, was proverbial: compare Whitney’s emblem Avaritia, where the miser

. . dothe abounde, yet sterues and nothing spendes,
But keepes his goulde, as if it weare not his:
With slender fare, he doth his hunger feede,
And dare not touche his store, when hee doth neede. 1

The topos had an allied biblical passage, echoed in Sonnet 1, Isaiah’s condemnation of the niggard, who will “make the hungry leane, and . . withholde drinke from the thirstie” (32.6; BB). 2 The poet firstly admits the effect the youth has on his thoughts: he sustains them (“as food to life”) and refeshes them, “as sweet season’d shewers . . to the ground,” where “sweet season’d” intends ‘sweetly flavoured’ as is food, or ‘seasonable’ or timely, or ‘seasonal’ showers of a sweet source, which nurture the ground. To sue or obtain peace of the youth (“for peace of you”) the poet is at war with himself (“I hold such strife”) like a miser, who is torn between looking after himself and looking upon “his wealth.” To “sue” or ‘take’ one’s peace of a person was customary – it derived from a Pax given or taken; Henry Smith in A Preparative To Mariage writes of a wife that she “hath taken the peace of thee, the first day of her marriage.” 3

The poet at one moment is “proud as an inioyer,” ‘proves to be’ or ‘finds himself’ enjoying his wealth (a reading of ‘prou’d,’ in opposition to “Doubting,” rather than ‘proud’ is more probable), 4 but in the next moment (“anon”) is found worrying (“Doubting”) either that the present time, that pilfers things (“the filching age”), will steal away “his,” the miser’s, “treasure,” or, since misers are associated with age, his own ageing will take away the one he treasures (even sexually). At one moment he counts it “best to be with you alone,” to be with the friend in private (“counting” continues the miser’s habit with his money); at the next in company (“Then”) the best is “betterd” or surpassed, because the public world can “see my pleasure” (misers hide their hoards). (Compare Ven. 78, where Venus’ “best is betterd with a more delight;” the phrase was associated with misers.) 5 At one moment (“Some time”) he is “all ful with feasting on your sight,” as a miser might look greedily on his store, but immediately (“by and by”) finds himself “cleane starued for a looke,” totally bereft of a look at the friend or of the friend’s looking on him (“cleane starued” contines the miser’s habit of starving himself rather than spend). He neither owns (“Possessing”) or chases after (“pursuing”) any pleasure other than (“Save what”) that which is to be had or taken from the friend. Like a miser in turmoil he is daily torn between wasting away (“pine”) and gorging himself (“surfet”) either by feeding ravenously (“gluttoning”) on all, or, chiastically, yearning (“pine”) for his “all,” who is “away,” his absent friend.

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75.1. Whitney 74.

75.2. Compare Ecclus. 11.18-19, which condemns the niggard’s lack of foresight: “Some man is riche by his care and nigardship, and that is the portion of his rewarde: In that he sayth, Now haue I gotten rest, and nowe will I eate and drinke of my goodes my selfe alone.”

75.3. Henry Smith, Preparative 56.

75.4. Compare Sonnet 67.12, where nature’s exchequer is “proud of many,” and Sonnet 129.11, where lust, “Inioyd no sooner but dispised straight,” is described as a “blisse in proofe and proud a[nd] very wo.”

75.5. Compare William Warner, The First and Second parts of Albions England (London: Thomas Orwin, 1589) 118, who condemns “Churles,” whose practice was not to employ their “Tallents” or “Their Coffers excrements” for the common man who would otherwise “haue sterued,” and whose unwillingness to listen is contrasted with “the best that betterd them heard but aloofe our mones.”

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