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Shakespeare Sonnet 7: "Lo! in the orient when the gracious light"

Updated on April 27, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 7

The sun has always been a useful object for poetry. And this talented poet makes use of it often and skillfully. In sonnet 7, the speaker now compares the youth of the young lad to the sun's diurnal journey across the sky. People adore the sun in the morning and at noon, but as it begins to set they divert their attention from that fantastic orb.

Playing on the vanity fo the young man, the speaker urges the lad to take advantage of his time as an object of attention to attract a mate and produce offspring, for like the sun there will come a time when that attraction will fade as the star does at sunset.

Sonnet 7

Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
And having climb’d the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage;
But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ’fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract, and look another way:
So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,
Unlook’d on diest, unless thou get a son.

Reading of Sonnet 7

Commentary

In Sonnet 7, the speaker cleverly uses a pun, metaphorically comparing the young lad’s life trajectory to a diurnal journey of the sun through the sky.

First Quatrain: As the Sun Moves Through the Day

Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;

The speaker in Sonnet 7 “Lo! in the orient when the gracious light” commences his continuing appeal to the young man to sire a child by directing the young lad to muse on the movement of the sun through the day. When the sun appears in the morning as if waking up, people open their eyes in “homage to his new-appearing sight.”

Earthlings are delighted with each new day's dawning. The appearance of the sun delights as it warms and bring all things into view, and earth folks seem to intuit that the sun possesses a “sacred majesty” when he first appears in the sky each morning.

Second Quatrain: Admiration for Youth

And having climb’d the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage;

After the sun rises and stands overhead, folks go on admiring and adoring him, and then the speaker makes it abundantly understandable that he is comparing in metaphor the young lad's youth to that of the daily sun rise and journey across the day.

The speaker announces, “Resembling strong youth in his middle age,” the folks still will admire both the sun’s and the young man’s beauty, and they will treat him royally as he continues on his “golden pilgrimage”; the sun’s literal golden daily trip across the sky and the young man’s most lustrous years from adulthood on into old age.

Third Quatrain: As Eyes Turn Away

But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ’fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract, and look another way:

However, with the sun beyond his zenith and moving down in back of the earth again, folks no longer peer at the phenomenal beauty as the darkness of night veils the earth; they turn their eyes away and exert their attention from the once royal majesty that was the sun rising and the sun at midday.

After "feeble age" has caused the young lad to go wobbling like an old man, people will divert their attention from him as they do when the sun is going down. They will not continue to pay homage to that which is fleeing; they will then "look" the other way.

The Couplet: No One Will be Looking

So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,
Unlook’d on diest, unless thou get a son.

Then the speaker, in the couplet, blatantly confers to the young man that if the latter permits his youthful beauty to grow dim as the sun grows dim in late evening, no one will be looking at the young lad anymore, unless he sires an heir. Sonnet 7 relies on the compelling use of a pun, an entertaining poetic device, as well as the precise gender assignment for his heir. The speaker thus far has not designated the definite gender of the offspring that he so much yearns for the young man to father.

It has always been implied, however, that the child should be a male who can inherit. In Sonnet 7, the speaker become definite that the young lad will forsake his immortality “unless thou get a son.” Metaphorically, the speaker is comparing the young man’s life journey to the sun’s daily journey across the sky; thus, it is quite fitting that he would employ the term, “son,” and the clever speaker undoubtedly held the notion that his pun was quite cute: sun and son. The speaker is certain his readers will admire his skill in employing that literary device.

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." For example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Traditionally classified as "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy." Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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