Books

Shakespeare Saturdays: Sonnet 30

Shakespeare saturdays

Happy Saturday! Shakespeare Saturdays are back and I’m looking at my first sonnet since August 2021.

This year, I’m aiming to post two Shax Saturday posts per month (except in March, when there will be none) and I’m very open to suggestions of things to cover. I usually write about single sonnets, single plays, or Shakespeare’s contemporaries but if you’d like to see anything else please do let me know!

Anyways, on to the analysis of sonnet 30…


Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

Analysis

First Quatrain (lines 1-4)

  1. When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
  2. I summon up remembrance of things past,
  3. I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
  4. And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

This sonnet has a ‘when-then’ structure, as many sonnets do, where the first quatrain poses the ‘when’ scenario and the rest of the poem dwells upon what happens after.

In this first quatrain, the speaker is thinking about the past. The speaker is sitting in silence, replaying ‘old woes’ in his mind and this remembrance is adding to his grief. There’s a lovely use of alliteration in the final line of this quatrain – ‘woes’, ‘wail’, ‘waste’ – and alliteration is a rather prominent feature of the poem.

Second Quatrain (lines 5-8)

  1. Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
  2. For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
  3. And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
  4. And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;

In the first line of this quatrain, the speaker admits to crying which is, according to him, something he doesn’t do very often. But he’s crying for the friends that he’s lost to death and this ties back into the earlier Fair Youth sonnets where the speaker laments the passage of time and mourns for the Fair Youth’s eventual death.

Line 7 indicates that, again, dwelling upon the past adds to the speaker’s grief. The sadness he felt at the loss of his friend had diminished with time (long since cancell’d woe) but the ‘session’ of remembrance that the speaker introduced in the first quatrain has renewed his grief and he mourns them with fresh tears. The use of the word ‘cancell’d’ seems oddly cold, like his grief had an expiration date (perhaps it did in early modern England), and this entire quatrain feels quite emotionally detached despite being about grief. The speaker doesn’t dwell upon his lost friends in the poem (even though he claims to) and they’re only mentioned to further his own expression of sorrow. The sonnet is about him, not his absent friends.

Third Quatrain (lines 9-12)

  1. Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
  2. And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
  3. The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
  4. Which I new pay as if not paid before.

In this quatrain, the speaker is mourning his hardships and sorrows. He’s moved past grieving for people and moved on to grieving his own sorrow.

Line 10, from woe to woe tell over, suggests that the speaker’s woes are piling up and Katherine Duncan-Jones has proposed that these woes and failings are like an account book that he reads through over and over. This can be seen in the words ‘sad account’ in line 11. [1] Again, it’s a rather cold sentiment but Duncan-Jones also argues that the word ‘heavily’ in line 10 suggests that recounting these past woes is a rather painful experience for the speaker. [2]

The final line in this quatrain once again brings our attention to the speaker’s tendency to constantly review his past sorrows. He relives it over and over again until the pain becomes fresh.

Final Couplet (lines 13-14)

  1. But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
  2. All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

The final couplet includes the first use of ‘dear friend’ in the sonnets, at least in the order that has been prescribed, and the narrator claims that thinking about the Fair Youth erases his sorrow. It’s a lovely message but it feels out of place in the rest of the poem. So much so that Don Patterson and other scholars have argued that the couplet has just been tacked on at the end of the poem. [3]

So, the sentiment is nice but the execution of this final couplet just seems off and it almost ruins the entire poem.

Overall, I’m not sure what to make of this poem! It seems to be concerned with grief but it dwells upon the poet’s self torture rather than the loss of loved ones. And the final couplet is just odd.


I’ll be back with another Shakespeare Saturday post in a fortnight! I’m not sure what it will be about yet but I’m leaning towards looking at Renaissance revenge tragedies in one way or another.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider supporting me over on Ko-fi! I’d really appreciate it and anyone who supports me can choose a book from my current TBR to be read and reviewed.

SupportMe_dark@2x

Footnotes:
1. Katherine Duncan-Jones, Shakespeare’s Sonnets (London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2010), p. 30.
2. Duncan-Jones, p. 30.
3. Don Patterson, Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 2010), p. 91.

5 thoughts on “Shakespeare Saturdays: Sonnet 30

    1. It is a very sombre poem! But the last couplet stops me from enjoying it as much as I want to. I kind wish he’d continued the theme into the final lines.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.