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Shakespeare Sonnet 71: "No longer mourn for me when I am dead"

Updated on November 16, 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, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 71

At first blush, sonnet 71 seems to be a departure from the theme of writing and the muse. However, it becomes clear that the requests for readers and listeners not to sorrow over the death of the writer are made simply to allow that audience to concentrate on the art, not the artist.

This speaker would not want his life to be scrutinized nor his death mourned because such scrutiny and mourning would detract from focusing clearly and intently on the sonnets.

This speaker repeatedly demonstrates that his love for creating his art remains bolstered by his strong talent. His pleasure and pride in his work constitute the main focus of his life. He knows his strength and he plays to it wholeheartedly.

No longer mourn for me when I am dead

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if,—I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

Reading of Sonnet 71

Commentary

First Quatrain: "No longer mourn for me when I am dead"

The first quatrain of sonnet 71 finds the speaker addressing his future readers and listeners. He then requests a favor from those individuals, asking them to shorten all periods of mourning for him after he has left this life.

Their mourning period should endure only as long as is required a "surly sullen bell" to cease its ringing. That "warning" bell at some unknown point in the future will report the speaker's death to the world.

That death ring will announce to the village that the speaker has left his body, and that body will now go to "with vilest worms to dwell."

The speaker releases his contempt for the world in this sonnet by calling it "this vile world." That "world" includes all the nasty critics, creepy poetasters, and despicable charlatans whom the speaker has chastised abundantly in his earlier sonnets.

But even as the world is filled with villainous people, the speaker's physical encasement will be submitted to an even worse fate as it enters the domain of the "vilest worms."

Oddly, however, the speaker assumes in prediction that his body will "dwell" among the worms; this state of events remains in contrast to the usual notion of a body being eaten up by the worms.

Second Quatrain: "Nay, if you read this line, remember not"

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues to ask his future readers and listeners for a favor. He strangely requests his audience not to be cognizant of the speaker/writer who wrote those lines.

The speaker implies that he loves his future readers/listeners so much that he would never want to cause them pain. Such pain seems to be pressing the speaker even as writes. Just the thought of causing others such sorrow shakes his equanimity.

Assuaging any future grief and sorrow of loved ones becomes the speaker's goal. He always strives to reduce sadness, melancholy, and sorrow from his life. He has taken as his goal to create art that is filled with love.

This speaker has shown repeatedly that he knows he is blessed with a unique talent. He wants that talent put to use only for positive purposes, such as sharing beauty, love, and truth.

Third Quatrain: "O! if,—I say, you look upon this verse"

The speaker now is dramatizing an additional request of his future readers and listeners. As the reader engages in experiencing the speaker's sonnet, the speaker commands the reader not to utter the speaker’s name, but "let your love even with my life decay."

The speaker desires that his readers, listeners, fans concentrate only on his polished sonnets, and not grieve over the speaker's death.

This speaker's notion of not using the name of the poet likely accounts for the poet's use of a nom de plume. By using the poet's pen name, the reader will not be engaging the writer's real identity. If the reader were to pronounce the real name of the writer, it would then become more difficult for that reader to forget who wrote the piece.

The speaker is attempting to instruct the reader/listener to eliminate all emotion and thought of the speaker that would unnecessarily burden the reader. The speaker wants all the readers' attention placed on his verse not his personality.

The Couplet: "Lest the wise world should look into your moan"

In the couplet, the speaker manages to insert a further reason for his odd requests. Openly mourning the speaker might bring mockery on his readers, he fears.

Again, the speaker shows compassion for his readers. But ultimately, his goal again focuses on his creations. He wants nothing to blur the vision of those who would concentrate upon his art.

This speaker has shown time and again how important his talent in writing is to him and how very urgently he wants his beautiful creations to shine before the world's eye.

By insisting that the readers and listeners in his audience remain steadfastly concentrated on the works and not on their creator, the speaker again emphasizes what he deems most important.

The Couplet: "Lest the wise world should look into your moan"

In the couplet, the speaker manages to insert a further reason for his odd requests. Openly mourning the speaker might bring mockery on his readers, he fears.

Again, the speaker shows compassion for his readers. But ultimately, his goal again focuses on his creations. He wants nothing to blur the vision of those who would concentrate upon his art.

This speaker has shown time and again how important his talent in writing is to him and how very urgently he wants his beautiful creations to shine before the world's eye.

By insisting that the readers and listeners in his audience remain steadfastly concentrated on the works and not on their creator, the speaker again emphasizes what he deems most important.

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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