Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
So shall those blots that do with me remain
Without thy help by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love’s sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love’s delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so; I love thee in such sort
As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.
This is one of the separation sonnets, which acts as an end stop for the previous three, and links in with 39, with which it shares many of its ideas. It conveys in brief the wrenching brutality of a divorce and the pain of the resolution that must be taken to bear it. The self denial of the poet and his willingness to sacrifice his own pleasure for the sake of his beloved is all too apparent, and it is not difficult to detect a note of additional pain caused by the perceived injustice. (See notes).
However it is possible to take an alternative reading of the entire sonnet, namely that it is the youth’s own apologia, although written by the poet in the persona of thy advocate, which he declares himself to be in the previous sonnet. In that way the blots and disgraces remain with the youth, in their original habitation, rather than being transferred to the poet by the over sophisticated arguments of 35. For it is not at all evident how the stain of the sensual fault, whatever that fault was, should suddenly become the lover’s rather than the youth’s. It is true that then the difficulty arises of explaining the reciprocity of public kindness and honour, since in the past it has been assumed to be entirely one way, from the young nobleman to the poet. Now we posit the possibility that the presentation and circulation of a poem in praise of the young man may be construed as an honour. Indeed, why not? For we know that dedications of poems to noblemen as patrons was normal, and we have no reason to doubt that the aristocrats of the time welcomed such attentions and felt honoured by them, despite the fecund humility of many of the recorded dedicatory addresses.
Such an interpretation in any case need not negate the traditional one, but may quite easily stand alongside it, adding a further layer of complexity to the troubled relationship. It also adds piquancy to the closing couplet, which occurs again in Sonn.96, as if the poet were remarking ironically that the lines spoken now by the beloved youth could be used again in another context and at another time of separation.
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