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Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare

On Tuesday, I posted Sonnet 29 ("When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes"), including a lovely (seriously, gloriously, lovely) performance of the poem by Matthew Macfadyen. Today, I'm posting the next of the sonnets in Shakespeare's collection: Sonnet 30 ("When to the sessions of sweet silent thought"). Thematically, it has quite a bit in common with Sonnet 29. Again, the poet is sitting alone with his memories. Whereas in Sonnet 29 he was envying other men, in this poem, he's regretting his own losses, including lost loved ones; his mourning is eradicated by his memories of the loved one (again, the Fair Youth).

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, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancelled woe,
And moan th' expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
  But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
  All losses are restored and sorrows end.

This Shakespearean sonnet (ABABCDCDEFEFGG, in iambic pentameter) uses the conceit (or extended metaphor) of analogy to the courtroom. The terms "session, summon, woes, cancelled, expense, grievances, account, payment and losses" are all borrowed from the terms of the courtroom. Even the phrase "remembrance of things past" (borrowed by Proust for his masterpiece, a la récherche du temps perdu) is a reference to a court proceeding, for it's drawn from the Bible and The Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 11, verse 12: "For a double grief came upon them, and a groaning for the remembrance of things past."

One of the things that makes this poem so lyrical and such a delight to read aloud and/or listen to is Shakespeare's use of alliteration throughout, which is often coupled with his use of wordplay. Thus, "Which I new pay as if not paid before" has double alliteration within the line. The use of alliteration is rife in the first twelve lines of the poem, with lots of sibillants in the first three lines, and the addition of Ms in line two or Ns in line three, while line 4 features Ws. Line 5 features Ns again, line 6 Fs and Ds, line 7 Ls, and line 8 Ms and Ns. Line 9 is big on Gs (and also the wordplay and double alliteration that comes with "grieve grievances"), line 10 likes Ls and Ws (in the repetition of "woe"). Line 11 is back to Ms and Ns (with the wordplay of "fore-bemoanèd moan"), and line 12 likes Ns and Ps (with the already noted wordplay of pay and paid).

In Line 13, however, where the true turn comes in this poem, and where the poet stops mourning his lonely state because he remembers his absent beloved, there is no appreciable alliteration. (Think and thee have very different "th" sounds associated with them, after all.) Shakespeare was anything if careless as a poet, and I believe that break in the alliteration pattern was purposeful, to give additional weight to the penultimate line of the poem: But if the while I think on thee, dear friend. The final line includes a number of Ss again, as well as multiple Ls and Rs, restoring the lost alliteration at the same time that the poet realizes that thoughts of the beloved are more than enough to eradicate his gloom over his real-life losses.

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2009 06:28 am (UTC)
I almost posted Sonnet 90 today! I changed my mind and went with Ophelia. :)
Jun. 19th, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC)
Love Ophelia's bit. I don't think she was completely mad. As her father said about Hamlet, there was a method to her madness. I think her flowers and her songs were well thought out, and made her point in a way she couldn't do directly (unlike Laertes with his sword).
Jun. 19th, 2009 01:18 pm (UTC)
I love that they think Hamlet's lost it, and then this happens.
Jun. 19th, 2009 12:02 pm (UTC)
This is one of my favorites! Thanks for the astute analysis, as usual :).
Jun. 19th, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC)
I'm glad to have found one of your favorites! And you're welcome!
Jun. 19th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
This is one of my favorites, too. Thanks for showering us with Shakespeare this month.
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:37 am (UTC)
I'm glad you're enjoying it. And hey, there's still 10 days left!
Jun. 19th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
I like that one. Nice analysis-- and kinda resonates with me right now. Not so familiar with the sonnets-- glad you chose it!
Jun. 20th, 2009 04:38 am (UTC)
I'm glad it resonated for you. I like how he took a similar theme and set up, then went somewhere different with it, both in style and in shade of meaning.
Jun. 20th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
I've so appreciated all of your Shakespeare postings. Think I have learned more about Shakespeare this month than I did all the way through high school and college.

Jun. 20th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)
Thank you, kind stranger!
Jun. 20th, 2009 03:01 am (UTC)
Ah, what a lovely way to end my day. By reading that. Thank you.

Jun. 20th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)
If only Matthew Macfadyen had read this one as well. Then again, I'd happily listen to him read the phone book.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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