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Shakespeare Sonnet 62: "Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye"

Updated on May 3, 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

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 62

Sonnet 62 is considered one of the "young man" poems that scholars have thematically identified. However, it is quite obvious that there is no person, not even his muse, in this poem. The only subject in this sonnet is the speaker himself.

This poem further supports the claim that this section of the sonnets has been misidentified: the sonnets do not address or immortalize any young man; they are all about the speaker, his muse, his talent, and his own self-confidence.

Sonnet 62

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed
Beated and chopp'd with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

Reading of Sonnet 62

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 62 takes a critical look at his obsession with his own self but then concludes that that love is really for his soul, a spark of the Divine.

First Quatrain: Admission of Guilt

Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.

In the opening quatrain, the speaker admits that he is guilty of the "[sin] of self-love." That sin has power over every part of him, all of his senses, his heart, and his very soul, and he feels helpless to alter the situation because "[i]t is so grounded inward in my heart."

Such a love, however, should be directed only toward the Divine Creator, and the speaker seems to be condemning his self-love as he begins his confession. While this speaker is consumed with the issue of his ability to compose literature, he often must face his physical condition and understand its relationship to his mental and spiritual encasements.

The speaker realizes that each of the three body forms must become and remain in harmony in order for true creativity to thrive. His desire for establishing the immortality of his art influences his constant study and push to attain the best possible knowledge that leads to bliss in life as well as art.

Second Quatrain: More Interested in Self than in Others

Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.

The speaker of this poem might remind the reader of the TV sitcom character, Murphy Brown, who once said, "I am the most interesting person I know." In the second quatrain, the speaker admits as much: "Methinks no face so gracious is as mine, / No shape so true, no truth of such account; / And for myself mine own worth do define, / As I all other in all worths surmount."

The speaker is, therefore, more obsessed with himself even than Ms Brown was. He is worth more than all other people. He finds his appearance more "gracious." His own ideas about truth are superior to others. He confesses a total absorption in his own self-interests.

Third Quatrain: True Self is the Soul

But when my glass shows me myself indeed
Beated and chopp'd with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.

When the speaker looks into his mirror and sees that he looks haggard and aging, it seems that his love for such an appearance defies all logic: "Self so self-loving were iniquity." Nevertheless, the speaker realizes that that is only his physical self; his true self is his soul, and he recognizes through intuition the permanence of the soul’s youth and beauty.

The Couplet: Only the Soul Gives Praise

'Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.

The speaker's obsession with the physical level of existence leads him to a deep understanding of the nature of life as a fading proposition. He is enjoined to overcome the dissonance that such knowledge engenders in the hearts and minds of each human sufferer.

Thus, it is the speaker's soul that gives praise, not his physical encasement, which operates only as an instrument for "[p]ainting [his] age with beauty of [the soul’s] days." Therefore, the speaker's sin is transmuted into a virtue because he is simply confessing love for his own soul, which is truly only love for the Divine Reality or Over-Soul.

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.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

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.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

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."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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