Sonnet 92

Shakespeare Sonnet 92

BVt doe thy worſt to ſteale thy ſelfe away,
For tearme of life thou art aſſured mine,
And life no longer then thy loue will ſtay,
For it depends vpon that loue of thine.
Then need I not to feare the worſt of wrongs,
When in the leaſt of them my life hath end,
I ſee, a better ſtate to me belongs
Then that, which on thy humor doth depend.
Thou canſt not vex me with inconſtant minde,
Since that my life on thy reuolt doth lie,
Oh what a happy title do I find,
Happy to haue thy loue, happy to die!
But whats ſo bleſſed faire that feares no blot,
Thou maiſt be falce, and yet I know it not.

Sonnet 92 and Sonnet 93 constitute a pair. Both echo phrases from the Book of Common Prayer’s “Fourme of solemnization of Matrimonie:” the rite’s “be ye wel assured” in “thou art assured mine” (‘assured’ was also used of one affianced); the rite’s prayer that the couple “abide in thy loue vnto their liues ende” in the sonnet’s “for tearme of life” (line 2) and in Sonnet 93.6, “my life hath end;” the rite’s “for better for worse . . till death vs depart” in the contrast between “worst of wrongs” and “better state” (lines 5 & 7). The rite’s use of Ps. 128, “Blessed are all they that feare the Lorde . . O well is thee, and happie shalt thou be. . . Loe, thus shall the man be blessed: that feareth the Lord,” is echoed in “happy title” (line 11), in “Happy to haue thy loue, happy to die” (line 12), and in “blessed faire that feares” (line 13). The rite’s admonition from Ephesians, “husbands loue your wiues . . not hauing spotte or wrinckle, or any such thing, but that it shoulde bee holy, and blamelesse,” 1 in “no blot” (line 13) and in Sonnet 93’s “husband” (line 1) and “wrinckles” (line 8), while Sonnet 93’s reference to “creation” (line 9) and “Eaues” (line 13) suggests the rite’s benedictory prayer, “Almighty God, who at the beginning did create our first parents, Adam and Eve. . .”

The sonnet’s opening, “But,” looks back to the wretchedness that concludes the previous sonnet. To “doe thy worst” was, as today, a colloquialism (compare the challenge to “ould Time” to “doe thy worst” in Sonnet 19), even if the poet here intends ‘do thy best “to steale thy selfe away,”’ which suggests leaving surreptitiously and ignobly. The poet will allow the withdrawal because the friend is “assured mine,” a familiar phrase since letters were signed off, ‘assuredly yours.’ He possesses the friend, “For tearme of life,” a legal phrase applied to ownership limited only by death. The duration of the friend’s love determines the length of the poet’s life, because his life “depends” on his love (“And life no longer then thy loue will stay / For it depends vpon that loue of thine”). Thus the poet has no cause to fear the worst of wrongs, death that departs, because even the least slight (“the least of them”) kills him (“my life hath end”). He knows (“I see”) that a “better state” is his beyond the vagaries of the friend’s mood or anything that hangs (“doth depend”) on his volatile temperament (“thy humour”).

The friend cannot cause him a grievance or accuse (“vex”) him of an inconstant mind, given that his lot (“life”) depends on the friend’s variable favour or “reuolt,” which retains its original meaning of ‘a vacillating back and forth.’ (Florio under “Volto” gives “in the mind . . to caste reuolt, or reuolue to and fro” and “in mind . . cast or reuolted to and fro”). 2 The poet’s constancy gains him ownership of happiness, a “happy title,” whether “Happy to haue” the youth’s love or “happy to die.” (Triple happinesses were a feature of marriage, compare Spenser, who draws on the marriage rite for his pair of Amoretti 58 and 59, which address his betrothed as “most assured” and avow, “Thrise happie she, that is so well assured / Vnto her selfe . . that nether will for better be allured, / ne feard with worse . . / Most happy she that most assured doth rest, / but he most happy who such one loues best.”) 3

Yet the poet remains fearful: what can be so blessed with beauty (“so blessed faire”) that isn’t threatened by physical or moral failure (“blot;” compare the “spot” of Sonnet 95.3)? His final thought fills him with dread: what if the youth is false and yet he remains ignorant of the betrayal!

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92.1. Eph. 5.25-7.

92.2. Florio, Worlde volto; he also translates “Volta” as a “mans turne or lot.”

92.3. Spenser, Amoretti 58.14; 59 passim.

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