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Shakespeare Sonnet 56: "Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said"

Updated on October 10, 2017
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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.

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 56

In sonnet 56, the speaker is describing the love that the true devotee of the Divine experiences. He is addressing love itself.

Readers have observed that in this section of the sonnet sequence (The Writer/Muse Sonnets 18-126) the speaker variously addresses his talent, his muse, his poem, and in sonnet 56, he is addressing the very subject of his piece.

This speaker has declared that he is interested only creating art that expresses beauty and truth. Thus, he knows that love is the most beautiful and most truthful of all subjects.

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpen’d in his former might:
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dulness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more bless’d may be the view;
Or call it winter, which, being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.

Reading of Sonnet 56

First Quatrain: "Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said"

The speaker addresses his favorite subject, his conception of divine love. He avers that "[s]weet love" replenishes itself.

Sweet love or soul love exists in an eternal, transcendental state, not like ordinary physical appetite/hunger, that although fed, will return again and again.

Sweet love, however, exists as a perpetual force. It is ever renewed on the ethereal plane. Sweet love emanates from the Divine and resides in the soul. It possesses an "edge" that is never "blunter than appetite."

The speaker is dramatizing this special soul love as he delineates its elongated perpetuity.

Second Quatrain: "So, love, be thou, although to-day thou fill"

In the second quatrain, continuing to address "love," the speaker asserts that as love "fill[s] / Thy hungry eyes," even as it "wink[s]" with such "fulness," the spirit of love prevents its ever becoming an instrument of "dulness."

While the reader senses that "love" addressed in this way would usually be construed as personification, the line is blurred so that a "person" is never fully drawn on the physical level, only on the soul level.

One may become overfull of drink or food, but of this soul love, the hunger or desire remains although the lover is satiated.

This "love" is Dickinson’s "liquor never brewed." The lover may drink his/her fill of this love and still remain in a state of joyful awareness, never becoming a victim of the hang-over, as the ordinary drunk may, but always remaining divinely tipsy.

Third Quatrain: "Let this sad interim like the ocean be"

With ordinary romantic love, the lovers part and experience emptiness during the "sad interim." The lovers may feel that they are separated by space as wide as the ocean.

And when the lovers once again appear in each other’s sight, they think they are "more blest" and feel the "[r]eturn of love."

But with soul love, the love remains and fills not only the lovers’ eyes and ears and other senses but affords a self-alertness that allows the lover to remain ever wrapped in the arms of the Beloved.

No ocean can separate this pair. They remain on the "banks" of this permanent Ocean of Love.

The Couplet: "As call it winter, which being full of care"

On the ordinary physical level of being where "winter" will bring its chill to even the warmest romantic relationship, the lovers will find themselves "full of care."

But soul love beckons with a perpetual "summer’s welcome," even though it is rarer than the vestiges of ordinary love.

The lovers will yearn three-times more strongly for this level of soul love, even before they are aware of that yearning.

The speaker has been dramatizing the unseen and making palpable the ethereal plane of existence in order to fulfill his destiny of filling his sonnets with truth.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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