Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
A sonnet that hardly needs an introduction. This and the following record a rejection by the youth of the poet. How serious or real this was we have no means of knowing. Perhaps it is an imaginary interlude in the sonnet sequence. Most readers however take it as having autobiographical content, and that approach is given credence by what appears to be the genuineness of the sorrow, and by the fact that the episode of estrangement, whatever caused it, is dealt with in this and the following three sonnets.
The fact that we are more disposed to believe in the biographical truth of the sonnet because of its beauty of imagery and language is a reality of human nature which cannot be easily dispensed with. It would be disapponting to learn that the youth and the poet’s impassioned love for him were mere creations of an idle brain, with deliberate intent to lay a false trail and make truth out of fiction. For while we may allow that a Macbeth and a Hamlet are engendered in the heat of artistic creation, their existence gives us a vicarious experience which is not harmed by their fictional reality. I am not convinced that this is so with the sonnets, for we long to trust their sincerity, and to see what it teaches us of our own capacity for love, what it explores and what it defines. Therefore I always assume what I take to be the standard or Wordsworthian approach (pace Browning), that this is a true record of love, no doubt edited and embellished, (for who could ever be word perfect in such matters?).
But we have to acknowledge also that the lover’s frown and her (in this case his) overcast brow, like the sun clouding over on a fine morning, was also a part of the sonnet tradition. Shakespeare was here making use of that rich tradition, as well as recording in his own inimitable way the feelings of one so cast down by his beloved’s disdain.
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