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Shakespeare Sonnet 75: "So are you to my thoughts as food to life"

Updated on December 1, 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 75

The speaker has been mourning the inevitable demise of his physical encasement and the possible waning of his talent in sonnets 73 and 74. In sonnet 75, the speaker returns to his favorite complex subject: his muse, his talent, and his ability to enshrine his deepest love in his sonnets.

The speaker notes that his muse comes and goes. At times he remains thoroughly nourished by his talent. But other times, he finds himself starving for inspiration.
The writer is always hope for continued inspiration for creativity, but this speaker remains completely realistic as bemoans the lack every time it occurs.

Sonnet 75

So are you to my thoughts as food to life
Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ’twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better’d that the world may see my pleasure:
Sometime, all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

Reading of Sonnet 75

Commentary

First Quatrain: "So are you to my thoughts as food to life"

So are you to my thoughts as food to life
Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ’twixt a miser and his wealth is found;

In the first quatrain, the speaker is addressing his muse as he avers that his muse nourishes his "thoughts" as "food" nourishes human life. Furthermore, this speaker's muse enlivens him as the rain does the dry, parched earth.

The talented speaker says that he is so dependent on his muse that he must make a mighty effort to calm himself in the presence of this belovèd muse.

The musing speaker likens his relationship with his muse to that of a "miser and his wealth." The speaker, thus, humbly deprecates himself to show that he knows he is not entirely responsible for his considerable gifts. However, despite those gifts, the speaker still has to strive to remain evenminded as in his passion for creating.

A too nearly perfect life would distill a dullness that this speaker, while showing gratitude for his talent, must constantly strive to overcome.

Second Quatrain: "Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon"

Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better’d that the world may see my pleasure:

The speaker then avers that he is proud to be able to enjoy his ability to commune with his fecund muse, but he admits that he still suffers doubts that his ability will not fade. His humanness always demonstrates that he never becomes so self-important as to think he is more than a striving artist, despite the unique muse he has attracted.

This speaker's ability to remain humble while castigating himself for over-weaning pride actually infuses his art with precision and truth—which are the qualities he most desires to portray.

Third Quatrain: "Sometime, all full with feasting on your sight"

Sometime, all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.

In the third quatrain, the speaker reports his opposing states of mind: sometimes he is able to "feast" on the muse’s bounty, and other times he is "starved" for her sight. All artists experience such states, when creativity seems to flow unfettered and then the dreaded dry periods when nothing seems to avail.

During the dry periods, the artist has to strain for inspiration, feeling that he has to try to take whatever he can get from the unyielding muse.

The Couplet: "Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day"

Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

The speaker ends on a plaintive note, saying that from day to day, he is tossed between those two states of mind: inspiration and lack thereof. The speaker remains at times like a glutton and at other times like a man starving. The dualities of life are ever present, even for a divinely inspired artist whose talent is considerable.

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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