Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, resty Muse, my love’s sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
If any, be a satire to decay,
And make Time’s spoils despised every where.
Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
So thou prevent’st his scythe and crooked knife.
In this and the following three sonnets the poet elaborately excuses his silence and the hiatus in the production of his sonnets in praise of the youth, a hiatus which perhaps corresponds to the period of absence commemorated in the previous three sonnets. Whether this silence was a real or imaginary one it is impossible to know. The defence against the charge of failure is a conventional defence, in that it uses the standard figure of the Muse as the source of poetic inspiration. But here the Muse is blamed for having dried up. She has spent her energies in worthless pursuits and is castigated for being devoted to trivialities, being forgetful and slothful. In the following sonnets she is accused of being a truant, neglectful, incapable, and beggarly.
According to GBE, ‘Many critics feel that Sonnets 100-103 lack any sense of commitment or emotional involvement’. (p.208). Nevertheless there is a sense of easy grace and relaxed detachment, perhaps born of necessity, which gives a pleasant charm to this group. After all the heart searching and agonies of former times the poet now has to justify his own failures. The chiding of the Muse is in itself an amusing farce, a clownish way of shifting blame away from himself. The Muse is berated instead and the poet, by his blasphemy of an ancient goddess, risks the wrath of divine punishment with studied carelessness.
The theme of lines 13-14, that verse might confer immortality on the object of devotion, has already been explored in full in 55, 63, 65 and others, and here it seems to be tacked on as a wistful afterthought. Age is taking its toll both on the lover and the beloved, and neither can withstand its ultimate overthrow.