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Shakespeare Sonnet 32

Updated on May 3, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 32

Shakespeare sonnet 32, unlike most of the poems in "The Writer/Muse Sonnets 18-126" sequence, does feature another person to whom the speaker addresses his discourse.

The purpose of the discourse, however, still remains the issue of his writing ability. In this poem, the speaker states that if some other poet comes along whose skill outperforms his own, the addressee should read his poem for his love and other poets for their skill. This injunction placed on his addressee guarantees that his sonnets retain a high purpose: the repository of his love.

Sonnet 32

If thou survive my well-contented day
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,
Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripp’d by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rime,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.
O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died, and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

(Please note: The Shakespeare writer did not make a mistake in the fifth line of this sonnet. The spelling, "rhyme," was not used until the 18th century when Dr. Samuel Johnson erroneously introduced that spelling into English. For my explanation for using only the correct form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 32

Commentary

In Shakespeare sonnet 32, the speaker seems more humble than usual about his poems as he addresses a loved one.

First Quatrain: Hypothetically Speaking

If thou survive my well-contented day
When that churl Death my bones with dust shall cover,
And shalt by fortune once more re-survey
These poor rude lines of thy deceased lover,

The first two quatrains of Shakespeare sonnet 32 are structured with if/then clauses: the first quatrain presents a hypothetical and the second presents what should follow. The “if” hypothetical is if his beloved should out live him, and the “then” is that she should re-read his poems a certain way.The speaker begins by referring to the day he dies as “my well-contented day” indicating that he will be accepting of his demise.

Still the poet/speaker calls death a churl and colorfully describes his post-death lot as his bones being dust covered. The speaker refers to his poems as, “These poor rude lines,” and throughout the sonnet, seems to disparage his poetry.

Second Quatrain: Special Comparison/Contrast

Compare them with the bettering of the time,
And though they be outstripp’d by every pen,
Reserve them for my love, not for their rime,
Exceeded by the height of happier men.

If the speaker’s belovèd should outlive him and also if she happens to re-read his poem, he wants her to compare them to the poems of others, but if they are not as well crafted as others, she should, “Reserve them for [his] love, not for their rime.”

The speaker asks her to remember that they contain his heart and soul, so she should consider that fact above their technical skill. Such skill as this speaker's might be bested by “happier men,” but his personal love for her is retained in, “These rude lines of thy deceased lover.”

Third Quatrain: Repetition of Love

O! then vouchsafe me but this loving thought:
‘Had my friend’s Muse grown with this growing age,
A dearer birth than this his love had brought,
To march in ranks of better equipage:
But since he died, and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

Then the speaker tells the lover what to think, which takes up the rest of the poem, and instead of referring to her as a “lover,” he employs the term “friend.” But what he tells her is essentially a repetition.

The speaker wants her have the opinion that if her poet/friend/lover had lived longer and his Muse had grown, his love poems could have been better and strong enough to compete “in ranks of better equipage.”

The Couplet: No Room for Improvement in Skill

But since he died, and poets better prove,
Theirs for their style I’ll read, his for his love.’

However, because her poet/friend died, and now there are far better poets, she will read the better poets for their prowess, but she will read her friend’s poems “for his love.” Truthfully, this poem's skill may appear to denigrate his poems but in actuality, it once again lifts them to an extremely high position, as the poet covers himself lest, in fact, a better poet should come along after his departure from the earthly art scene.

The poem reveals not only the poet's skill that he so cherishes, but it also unveils a definite prescience that his art will never have to face worry over being out-performed; his stature is safe, and he is sure of it.

Waxing Humble in the Face of Great Talent

As the earlier explication of this group of sonnets has emphasized, most of these poems have been dedicated to a celebration of the poet’s poetic talent, and often the speaker actually addresses the poem itself.

This one still celebrates that poetic talent although it does address a belovèd, whose presence serves only as a kind of backdrop against which the poet can make his seemingly humble remarks about his “poor rude lines.”

Source

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: The Real "Shakespeare"

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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