O, how thy worth with manners may I sing,
When thou art all the better part of me?
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is ‘t but mine own when I praise thee?
Even for this let us divided live,
And our dear love lose name of single one,
That by this separation I may give
That due to thee which thou deservest alone.
O absence, what a torment wouldst thou prove,
Were it not thy sour leisure gave sweet leave
To entertain the time with thoughts of love,
Which time and thoughts so sweetly doth deceive,
And that thou teachest how to make one twain,
By praising him here who doth hence remain!
This reads like a deferred reply to the proposition of sonnet 36:
Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one,
a sonnet which may be read as if it were spoken by the young man (although written by his advocate). The poet now gives his considered response, prefacing it with the observation that, as things now stand, any praise he makes of the young man will appear to be praise of himself. So, for that reason alone, he is prepared to admit that they should live separate lives, as the young man suggests. He would then be free to praise his love unstintingly without appearing to heap upon himself a mass of self-praise.
But this leaves him with the further thought that he will have to endure the bitterness and torment of absence, which, in thought, he tries to alleviate by imagining that he will be able to contemplate his beloved at a distance, and entertain the time with thoughts of love, so that the separation becomes a joining together, and the poet singly becomes united with the youth. It is no doubt a poor substitute for being in the young man’s company, but for the time being he sees no other remedy and it is the only way to make the sourness of absence sweeter.