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Shakespeare Sonnet 58: "That god forbid, that made me first your slave"

Updated on December 12, 2017
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. 17 Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction: Taming the Muse

The speaker in sonnet 58 is addressing his muse. He often performs this task in his sonnets in order to create his little dramas.

In this sonnet, the speaker is examining and somewhat lamenting the process of waiting on the pleasure of the muse to inform his creativity. He would pray that the muse offer him her services at times that are more convenient for him.

However, the speaker, who always remains aware that the muse will continue to remain free-wheeling and unable to pin to an exact schedule, demonstrates that his impatience can be conquered despite his strong urges to create his art on his own terms and on his own time.

Sonnet 58

That god forbid that made me first your slave
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand the account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal, bound to stay your leisure!
O! let me suffer, being at your beck,
The imprison’d absence of your liberty;
And patience, tame to sufferance, bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.

Reading of Sonnet 58

First Quatrain: “That god forbid, that made me first your slave”

In sonnet 58, in a somewhat sarcastic tone, the speaker accosts his muse with the notion that far be it from him (the poet/speaker) to try to control the muse. He cognizes that he remains, by God’s grace, a slave of the muse, a position he does not disdain.

Nevertheless, this amusing speaker would have the muse perform more accommodatingly and provide him nourishment of thought and inspiration more in line with his own schedule.

However, the talented speaker does know that he is merely a “vassal” of the muse, and his own “account of hours” will never move the muse to act. He might even make things worse by his craving, which will probably be “bound to stay [the muse's] leisure.”

Second Quatrain: “O! let me suffer, being at your beck”

Since there is no cure, the speaker goes on to exaggerate his lot, melodramatically asserting, “O! let me suffer, being at your beck.” He will always remain at the beck and call of the muse, so he exclaims that he will go ahead and suffer it. He is “imprison’d” by the free will of the muse.

The speaker knows that he must possess and exhibit “patience.” He knows that he is required to “tame” his suffering heart. Each time the muse plays coy, he must “bide each check” and not become disconcerted by the muse’s seeming fickleness.

Third Quatrain: “Be where you list, your charter is so strong”

Whatever the muse does must be accepted because its force is soul force, and the mere human cannot understand or control such force or even begin to comprehend its relationship to time. Only the muse can “privilege [the muse's time / To what [the muse] will.”

So while the speaker can complain, he can also create his poems based on the supposed frustrating schedule of the creative force, and he chides the muse with exaggerated blame, even referring to it as a “crime.”

But this understanding speaker insists that the crime belongs only to the muse; he may suffer it, but he does not have to accept blame for it.

The Couplet: “I am to wait, though waiting so be hell”

By the time it took to reach the couplet—“I am to wait, though waiting so be hell, / Not blame your pleasure be it ill or well”— the speaker has cooled down a bit. He still strenuously hates the cruel waiting on the criminally-terminal schedule.

However, “though waiting” seems like hell to him, this pragmatic speaker will not ultimately blame her but accept her pleasure whether it suit him “ill or well.”

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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