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So is it not with me as with that Muse (Sonnets XXI) -- William Shakespeare

(Poem #943) So is it not with me as with that Muse (Sonnets XXI)
 So is it not with me as with that Muse
 Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
 Who heaven itself for ornament doth use
 And every fair with his fair doth rehearse
 Making a couplement of proud compare
 With sun and moon, with earth and sea's rich gems,
 With April's first-born flowers and all things rare
 That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems.
 O let me true in love but truly write,
 And then believe me: my love is as fair
 As any mother's child, though not so bright
 As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air:
   Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
   I will not praise, that purpose not to sell.
-- William Shakespeare

1. "that Muse": metonym for "the poet inspired by that Muse".
5. "couplement": the act (or fact) of coupling.
2. "this huge rondure": this great sphere of earth and heaven, from Fr.


One thing I'm always struck by while reading the Sonnets is the confidence
of Shakespeare's opening lines. They're not always "poetic" in the
traditional sense; indeed, they often seem exactly the opposite, using
inverted syntax and unusual images to capture the reader's attention [1].
This, it goes without saying, is a high-risk approach; fortunately,
Shakespeare is, well, Shakespeare, and carries it off with the utmost of
ease. He sets never a foot [2] wrong; his tone is calm and utterly assured,
while retaining a depth of feeling, an immediacy which reaches out over the
centuries to touch readers even today.

Today's poem is (in a neat little bit of self-reference) about the Sonnets
themselves. It "rejects the conceits of poets who habitually make
extravagant comparisons with stars, jewels and flowers, in favour of
truthful (and private?) cogency" [3]. The obvious parallel is, of course,
Sonnet CXXX, "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" (Minstrels
Poem #44), but the methods used in the two poems are sufficiently
disparate for (the less-celebrated) Sonnet XXI to possess a distinct
character of its own. Note especially the the interplay of language and
meaning: when describing the poetry of bad sonneteers, Shakespeare
rather self-consciously uses pretentious words like "couplement" and
"rondure" [4]; when it comes time to describe his own, more
down-to-earth feelings for his beloved, he is content with everday
phrases like "any mother's child". Self-reference within self-reference
- yum!


[1] See, for instance, the titles of the Sonnets that we've run on the
[2] Pun fully intended :)
[3] Katherine Duncan-Jones, in the third Arden edition of the Sonnets - a
recent (and highly recommended) addition to my library.
[4] Ms Duncan-Jones informs me that this word appears nowhere else in
Shakespeare's oeuvre [5].
[5] I've always wanted to use that word - oeuvre - in a Minstrels commentary

[Minstrels Links]

The Sonnets:
Poem #44, My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnets CXXX)
Poem #71, Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnets XVIII)
Poem #219, Full many a glorious morning have I seen (Sonnets XXXIII)
Poem #363, Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnet CXVI)
Poem #808, Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck (Sonnets XIV)
Poem #943, So is it not with me as with that Muse (Sonnets XXI)

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