Sonnet 79

Shakespeare Sonnet 79

WHilſt I alone did call vpon thy ayde,
My verſe alone had all thy gentle grace,
But now my gracious numbers are decayde,
And my ſick Muſe doth giue an other place.
I grant (ſweet loue) thy louely argument
Deſerues the trauaile of a worthier pen,
Yet what of thee thy Poet doth inuent,
He robs thee of, and payes it thee againe,
He lends thee vertue, and he ſtole that word,
From thy behauiour, beautie doth he giue
And found it in thy cheeke: he can affoord
No praiſe to thee, but what in thee doth liue.
Then thanke him not for that which he doth ſay,
Since what he owes thee, thou thy ſelfe dooſt pay,

Having established in Sonnet 78 that the youth should take pride in what the poet takes from him (“compile”), the poet in Sonnet 79 attacks a rival poet who fraudulently steals from the youth. The poet concedes that during the period when he was sole claimant to the youth’s “ayde,” either poetic or pecuniary, his verse was the sole beneficiary of the youth’s “gentle grace,” his inspiration or endorsement. To ‘call upon someone’s aid’ was used of the Muses when seeking inspiration and of patrons when seeking favour. Now his verse, once made gracious by the youth, has become weak and disproportionate (“decay’d”); “numbers,” by metonymy verse, was a rhetorical feature prescribing the required “vniformitie,” essential to the third part of rhetoric, Elocutio. Wilson explains that, “whereas Inuention helpeth to finde matter, and Disposition serueth to place arguments: Elocution getteth words to set forth inuention, and with such beautie commendeth the matter.” The requirement is to “keepe an vniformitie, and . . a nomber in the vttering of his sentence.” 1 The poet’s muse, lacking the support of the friend, is “sick” and cedes place to a rival. The poet concedes that the beloved (“sweet loue”) is a worthy subject or “argument” for love, “argument” being the second part of rhetoric set out in the Dispositio2

The rival poet (“thy Poet”) is now attacked: his ‘compiling’ or theft constitutes fraud, because he draws on the youth as Muse or the source of his Inventio in which he “findeth the matter” and, stealing it from him (“robs thee of”), returns it to him as tribute (“payes it thee againe”). When he awards the youth “vertue,” he has “stolen” the very word from the youth’s demeanour (“thy behauiour”). When he attributes to him “beautie,” he has already “found” (= ‘invented’) it “in thy cheeke,” by synecdoche his whole face. The rival poet can offer no praise to the youth other than that already embodied in the youth himself. The poet concludes by arguing that the youth must not thank the rival for his Utterance (“that which he doth say”), the last part of rhetoric, because he is already furnishing, as Muse or patron, whatever the rival is obliged to offer. An irony of the sonnet is that almost exclusively its inspiration is rhetorical nicety.


79.1. Wilson 163.

79.2. See Wilson 6, “Dispositio, the which is nothing els but an apt bestowing, and orderly placing of things, declaring where euery argument shall be set.”