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Shakespeare Sonnet 112: "Your love and pity doth the impression fill"

Updated on January 30, 2018
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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


Introduction and Text of Sonnet 112

Most writers, in their heart of hearts, are private people who crave solitude in order to think, muse, and craft. The Shakespearean speaker of the sonnets demonstrates repeatedly his devotion to seclusion and to the muse, who is the queen of his solitude.

Sonnet 112 dramatizes the speaker’s unique relationship with his muse; her attention not only motivates his cogitation but also gives him respite from the scars and wounds inflicted by public interaction. The muse to the Shakespearean sonneteer offers respite in a similar sense that religionist depend on their Divine Belovèd.

Your love and pity doth the impression fill

Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp’d upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o’er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all-the-world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue;
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel’d sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of other’s voices, that my adder’s sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred,
That all the world besides methinks are dead.

Reading of Sonnet 112


First Quatrain: "Your love and pity doth the impression fill"

The speaker addresses his muse, reporting to her, "Your love and pity doth the impression fill / Which vulgar scandal stamp’d upon my brow." He dramatizes accusations hurled at him by claiming that they have cut into his "brow" leaving a gaping hole. But fortunately, his muse will bandage his wound and fill it as one would fill in a divot.

The speaker then tells his muse that he does not take to heart what others think of him; he does not "care . . . who calls [him] well or ill." He knows that his own worth is not determined by anyone or anything outside of himself. His own soul, to whom he relates as his muse, can treat any of his trifling tribulations.

Such independence is vital in pursuing the kind of truth-telling to which this speaker continuously aspires. He does not remain beholden to the thoughts and criticisms of others. He knows his own mind, heart, and the extent of his talent, and he has the courage to follow his own path to his own goal.

Second Quatrain: "You are my all-the-world, and I must strive"

The speaker then tells his muse, "You are my all-the-world." Because the muse is his world, he can take only the evaluation of himself from her. No one other than his own heart, mind, and soul can offer "shames and praises," because no one knows him so well as his muse. Only his own soul can understand his "steel’d sense." The people of society see only his outward garb; they can never know his inner being.

This profound speaker knows that the outward garb remains changeable in its physical level of existence. He has transcended that level mentally, and he thus aspires to attain to the level of spiritual reality, where truth, beauty, and love exist eternally.

Third Quatrain: "In so profound abysm I throw all care"

The speaker portrays his muse as a deep vessel into which he can toss all worry and taunting sound of "others’ voices." By tossing his worries into the abyss, he loses his need to respond to critics and flatterers. He knows that neither praise nor blame from others makes him better or worse. And though the artist in him is vulnerable to criticism, he realizes the futility of becoming caught up in its grip. Therefore, he will always strive to ignore those voices.

Because of his confidence, courage, and awareness of his own strength, the speaker can vow to his soulful muse that he will continue to toss all dross down that abyss where such travails fall and then vanish.

The Couplet: "You are so strongly in my purpose bred"

The speaker can dispense with those critics and flatterers because his muse is "so strongly in [his] purpose bred / That all the world besides [he deems] are dead." To him the outside world does not exist. He takes his inspiration and instruction directly from his own muse—his heart, mind, and soul.

While writers who share their products with others will always find the need to face their adversaries, they can take a hint from this speaker after they ask themselves certain pertinent questions: do I have the courage of my convictions? am I convinced of my own creative abilities? do I rest with my muse instead of allowing critics and flatterers to influence me?

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

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."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "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.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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