Sonnet 98

Shakespeare Sonnet 98

FRom you haue I beene abſent in the ſpring,
When proud pide Aprill (dreſt in all his trim)
Hath put a ſpirit of youth in euery thing:
That heauie Saturne laught and leapt with him.
Yet nor the laies of birds, nor the ſweet ſmell
Of different flowers in odor and in hew,
Could make me any ſummers ſtory tell:
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the Lillies white,
Nor praiſe the deepe vermillion in the Roſe,
They weare but ſweet, but figures of delight:
Drawne after you, you patterne of all thoſe.
Yet ſeem’d it Winter ſtill, and you away,
As with your ſhaddow I with theſe did play.

Sonnet 98 continues the theme of seasonal absence found in Sonnet 97, casting April as a jester or fool, who manages to make the wintry spirit cavort with him; “proud pide Aprill” is the spring month arrayed in all its finery (“drest in all his trim”) like a fool attired in his parti-coloured (“pide”) dress. (The pied coat of the fool was standard, compare Tourneur, The worldes Folly, “a Foole in a pied coat.”) 1 Spring has rejuvenated all things, so that “heauie Saturne laught and leapt with him.” Astrologically the god, Saturn, was classified as “heauy” and was associated with melancholy, the opposite of sanguine. He was identified with December through the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which began on the December solstice and continued for a week (December 17-23), during which time the roles of master and slave were reversed. Subsequently Saturnalia was associated with the Feast of Fools, celebrated at the same time in December as a pre-reformation popular festival. In John Davies’ description of the ages in Microcosmos Saturn is identified with old age, “The last Decrepit is, and so is call’d; / Which Saturn rules with Scepter of dul lead.” 2 Sonnet 97’s “old Decembers” leaping and laughing imitate the antics of a fool, full of vigour and youth. But the example of the seasons cannot affect the poet, for whom the youth remains absent. Nothing can lift his spirits: not the songs of birds (“laies;” in Sonnet 97.12 they are “mute”), nor the perfume (“sweet smell”) of flowers that vary in scent (“odour”) or colour or shape (“hew” intends ‘hue’ as well as a “figure” that is hewn). None of these can enable him to count or narrate (“tell”) a story befitting the season of summer. Nor can he pluck flowers from the swollen or glorious belly (“proud lap”), from which they had issued.

He cannot “wonder at the Lillies white,” a proverbial association. He is unable to “praise the deepe vermillion in the Rose,” completing the standard floral mixture of white and red. The lily and rose were “but figures of delight,” shapes that give delight but which are fashioned in imitation of the youth (“drawn after you”), so that rather than prefiguring or foreshadowing him, they come after or behind him; they are figures in his shadow, as a jester in the shadow of a king. The youth is their “patterne,” their model or source, from which any delight they afford is originally drawn. (As in Sonnet 19.12 the 16th century conflation of ‘pattern’ and ‘patron,’ both from pater = father, is relevant, while Shakespeare probably has in mind also the function Horace awards poetry to “delight” [“delectando”] and its object, which he defines as the “sweet” [“dulci”].) 3 While the youth is the source of the wonderment summer might bring, for the poet his absence makes it seem “Winter still.” In playing with the lily and rose, he seems to play only with faint replicas of the youth (“your shaddow”), “play” recalling the theatricality of Saturn cavorting like a jester.


98.1 Cyril Tourneur, Laugh and lie downe: Or, The worldes Folly (London: William Jaggard, 1605) F2v.

98.2. Davies, Microcosmos 66.

98.3. Horace, Ars Poetica 343-44.