“But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,/ All losses are restored and sorrows end.”

Shakespeare Sonnet #30

By Dennis Abrams

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SONNET 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end

SONNET 30

PARAPHRASE

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

When in these sessions of gratifying silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I think of the past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

I lament my failure to achieve all that I wanted,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

And I sorrowfully remember that I wasted the best years of my life:

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,

Then I can cry, although I am not used to crying,

For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,

For dear friends now hid in death’s unending night,

And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,

And cry again over woes that were long since healed,

And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:

And lament the loss of many things that I have seen and loved:

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

Then can I grieve over past griefs again,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

And sadly repeat (to myself) my woes

The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,

The sorrowful account of griefs already grieved for,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

Which (the account) I repay as if I had not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

But if I think of you while I am in this state of sadness, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.

All my losses are compensated for and my sorrow ends.

ANALYSIS

sessions (1): the sitting of a court. The court imagery is continued with ‘summon up’ in line 2. The court motif is used several times by Shakespeare – note Othello 3.3.140: “Keep leets and law days, and in session sit/With mediations lawful?” (Leets = court sessions).

old woes (4): By replaying his ‘old woes’ over in his mind, the poet is wasting precious time that could be spent thinking more joyous thoughts. Hence ‘my dear time’s waste.’

love’s long since cancell’d woe (7): is the sorrow the poet had once felt over the loss of his close friends; loss that has dulled over the years but now returns as he thinks of the past.

And moan…sight (8): Some scholars interpret this line to mean ‘I lament the cost to me of many a lost sigh.’ “‘Sight’ for ‘sigh’ was archaic by Shakespeare’s time and seems only to have been used for the sake of rhyme (see OED). Sighing was considered deleterious to health; compare 2 Henry VI 3.2.61-3: ‘blood-consuming sighs . . ./Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs’, and 47.4.” (Blakemore Evans, 142). However, the ordinary word ‘sight’ also makes sense in this context; that is, the poet has lost many things that he has seen and loved.

dear friend (13): Shakespeare’s first use of the term ‘dear friend’ in the Sonnets.

All losses…end. (14): His friend is as great as the sum of all the many things the poet sought but did not find.

Sonnet 30 is a tribute to the poet’s friend — and likely his lover — whom many believe to be the Earl of Southampton. Sonnet 29 proclaims that the young man is the poet’s redeemer and this theme continues in the above sonnet. The poet’s sorrowful recollections of dead friends are sparked by the lover’s absence and can be quelled only by thoughts of his lover, illustrating the poet’s dependence on his dear friend for spiritual and emotional support.

Notice Shakespeare’s use of partial alliteration over several lines to enhance the texture and rhythm of the sonnet. Others could be cited, but here is one example:

When to | the Sess | ions of | sweet si | lent thought
I summ | on up | remem | brance of | things past

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From Wikipedia – a rather good analysis:

Shakespeare‘s Sonnet 30, one of his most famous, is a reflection on sad memories reconciled by the realization of the gift he has in his friend. A phrase from the second line of this sonnet has achieved a worldwide circulation in the literature of the twentieth century, with its concern with time: C. K. Scott-Moncrieff chose “Remembrance of Things Past” as the title for his English translation of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. The mood of depression, with absence from his friend, continues and brings back to the speaker the thought of earlier friends now dead, and former loves now over.[1]

Contents

Synopsis

Shakespeare constructed Sonnet 29 in honor of his friend and possibly his lover, the Earl of Southampton (Shakespeare’s savior). He continues this theme in Sonnet 30. The poet’s mournful recollections of his deceased friends are ignited by the lover’s absence and can only be cured by the thoughts of his lover; this exemplifies his dependence on his cherished friend for spiritual and emotional support.[2]

The sonnet begins by using courtroom metaphors (“session”, “summon up” (as a witness), and “cancell’d” (as a debt)). The speaker paradoxically describes solitary contemplation as “sweet” despite his inevitable thought on sad things. Shakespeare grieves his failures and shortcomings (“I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought”), and, although the tragedy is long in the past, he “weep[s] afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe”. The theme of renewed sadness in contemplation figures prominently in the sonnet.

Then can I grieve at grievances forgone

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,

Which I pay new as if not paid before.

The subject of lost friends and lost lovers, which in this sonnet emerges only from a more general evocation of things loved and lost, becomes the main subject of sonnet 31, which may well have been written almost immediately afterwards and in which Shakespeare declares that all those he has lost and lamented are, as it were reincarnated in his friend.[3]

The sonnet continues the themes of grief, but while it is a poem about memory its language is surprisingly legal and financial. The poet meditates in solitude on past sorrows, failures, the memory of deceased friends, financial loses, and on old wounds. The concluding couplet, however offers the compensation as all woes vanish in recollection of the “dear friend”.[4]

The sonnet ends with a touching statement that in his thoughts of sorrow, when he thinks of his friend, “All losses are restored and sorrows end.” The sonnet is much similar in content and tone to Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes…”).

Metaphors and imagery

The sonnet is intimately bound up with his response to individual metaphors. A metaphor which is obtrusive or vague may well undermine, or at least obscure, a sonnet’s literal statement. That literal statement will not usually be abandoned but it will have to co-exist with a potentially frustrating metaphoric competition. In some sonnets, though, the competition between metaphor and statement is a sustaining, not frustrating, element. An example is sonnet 30 which has one of the most exhaustive metaphors in the sonnets in this book. Coldly abstracted Sonnet 30 says the following: “When I meditate I remember dead friends whom I have long since ceased mourning over. I feel their loss anew until I think of you; with that thought I cease grieving at that loss”. That statement pays a great tribute to the power of the young man but it also has strong negative, reductive undertones which are only held in check by the distance between the sonnet’s statement and the metaphor it uses. The metaphor is, or course, a legal/financial one, beginning at “sessions” and continuing through “summon up”, “precious”, “cancelled”, “expense”, “tell o’er”, “account”, “pay”, and “paid”, to “losses are restored”. Added to those obvious images there is a strain of words which carry secondary legal/financial senses: “lack”, “dear”, “waste”, “unused”, “dateless”, “foregone”, and “dear” again in the couplet. Nonetheless I can sympathize, it not agree with martin Seymour-smith’s judgment that the legal metaphor is “unobtrusive”, largely because it has to compete with another line of imagery, the poet’s sorrow: ”sigh”, “old woes”, “new wail”, “drown an eye”, “unused to flow”, “weep afresh”, “moan”, “grieve at grievances”, “heavily”, “from woe to woe”, “sad”, “fore-bemoaned moan”, and “sorrows”. I call this line of imagery because it does not quite have the standing of a metaphor; elements of it are metaphorical, but the reader’s vision is on sighs and tears-a literal and figurative form overcoming each other is the surprising degree to which they fail to interact. Put simply, the part of the mind which sees thought presiding over his court and summoning witness, the cancelling of debts and the spending of money, will not directly, or even indirectly, relate these images to sighs and tears. “Dateless” has its double reference – death has no end, like a lease which has no fixed term – but neither it nor the rest of the metaphor can be absorbed into the sonnet’s statement… Here the death of friends can not be so conveniently labeled. It exists, of course, as a poetic subject, but not normally as a subject, let alone a vehicle, for love poetry, one of whose conventional metaphors is the legal/financial. In essence Sonnet 30 preserves the balance between subject and metaphor, permitting the reader neither to turn it into the reductive statement ‘you are all my dead friends’, nor to read it as the involved love conceit which so much of its language points toward.[5]

Interpretations

In sonnet 30 the poet indulges in just the sort of mourning what we saw him asking his friend- if somewhat ironically- to reject coldly in Sonnet 71 (“no longer mourn for me”). There are other relations between Sonnets 30 and Sonnet 71, especially in the tone of the two sonnets with their opposition between sentiment and marketplace. Indeed, perhaps it is the futility of marketplace methods in Sonnet 30 to appreciate the powers and needs of affection that leads in Sonnet 71 to the somewhat self-pitying indictment of the “vile world” in its emotional unresponsiveness. Both this sonnet and Sonnet 31 are elaborately metaphysical exempla for the homely proverb, “In love is no lack”; they may have been intended as such.

1. Sessions: the periodic sittings of the judges, a court of law (Seymour-smith notes that the legal metaphor “adds notion of guilt and punishment to that of nostalgia.”)
2. Summon: cite by authority to appear at a specified place, require an appearance before a court either to answer a charge or to give it evidence
6. Dateless: endless, without limit or fixed term.[6]

This is one of the most pensive and gentle of the sonnets. It links in closely with the previous one, (Sonnet 29) both in thought and layout. The discontent with life which was expressed there still remains in this one, as the poet surveys his past life and all the sorrows it has brought him. The language is quasi-legal, possibly based on that appropriate to a manorial court investigating discrepancies in its accounts. Hence terms like, waste, expense, grievance, cancelled, tell o’er, paid before, are employed. When the account is finally reckoned up, with his dear friend added to the balance sheet, the discrepancies and losses disappear, and all sorrow is outweighed by the joy of remembering him.[7]

Notes

  1. ^ A.L. Rowse, Shakespeare’s Sonnets Third Edition. The MacMillan Press Ltd, 1984
  2. ^ Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30. Shakespeare Online. 2000.
  3. ^ J.B. Leishman, Theories and Variations in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Hillary House Publishers Ltd NY, 1961
  4. ^ D. Callaghan, Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007
  5. ^ Gerald Hammond, The Reader and Shakespeare’s Young Man Sonnets, The MacMillan Press Ltd, 1981
  6. ^ Stephen Booth, Shakespeare’s Sonnets. New Haven and London Yale University Press, 1977
  7. ^ http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/xxxcomm.htm

Another view:

1. When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

sessions – the sitting of a court. We still use phrases such as quarter sessions in connection with legal sittings. The court imagery is continued with summon up in the following line.

2. I summon up remembrance of things past,

summon up – as in summoning a witness. See above. But there is also the meaning of summoning up spirits, as if remembrances of the past were spirits which could be called back from the grave.
remembrance of things past – the phrase occurs in the bible also. Wisdom of Solomon, OT Apocrypha, 11.12.

3. I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

I sigh the lack of = I sigh for the absence of, for the fact that I never attained…

4. And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

Shakespeare uses the new/old contrast in two other sonnets
This were to be new made when thou art old,
2,
For as the sun is daily new and old,
76.
The freshness of his grief is contrasted with the age of his sorrows, which, to heighten his sense of despair, he resurrects.
my dear time’s waste
= the squandering of my precious time. waste also conveys the meaning of destruction and barrenness.

5. Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,

Then can I weep, from an eye which does not often shed tears. Drowning one’s eyes suggests copious weeping.
unused – Othello speaks of himself as not often weeping
……of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum.
V.ii.135.
Men were expected not to weep (then as now). See Laertes words when he cannot hold back his tears for Ophelia. Ham.IV.7.185-9.

6. For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,

dateless = without end.

7. And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,

And weep once more over the pain of one or more love affairs, though I have long since written off the sorrow associated with them.

8. And moan the expense of many a vanished sight:

the expense = the cost, the drain on (my) resources. The phrase probably refers more to emotional loss than to anything else, although it does link with line 3 above-I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, especially as sight had an archaic meaning of sigh, though fallen mostly into disuse by Shakespeare’s time.

9. Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

grievances = griefs; injuries done to me;
foregone
= in the past, that have gone before. Also perhaps, because of the similarity of the words, with some of the meaning of foredone, ‘killed, dead and gone’. Compare:
Your eldest daughters have fordone them selves,
And desperately are dead.
KL.V.3.291-2.

10. And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

Woes (sorrows) are listed as in an account book, which he heavily peruses and tots up;
tell o’er – this is an accounting phrase, referring to the reading over and summation of lists of figures. We still have tellers in banks, although the word is falling into disuse.

11. The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,

Recounting these lists to himself makes him sad; hence sad account; sad also had the meaning of ‘serious, weighty’.
fore-bemoaned
= wept for in former times.

12. Which I new pay as if not paid before.

The sorrow caused by an earlier grievance requires that a debit of tears be chalked up against it. Although this debit has been cleared in the past, he now pays it over again, as if he had not paid it off before.

13. But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

The denouement of this concluding couplet is less dramatic than in the previous sonnet, in which the whole sestet lifts the poet from the doldrums. But it is no less effective. The simplicity and directness of the language contrasts with the heaping up of gloomy colours and sorrows which afflict him in the first 12 lines.

14. All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

All losses are restored – this is probably the language of a legal settlement. restore = to make restitution for damages. OED.2.a.

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And finally, for your viewing, a discussion with two of the world’s great experts on Shakepeare:  Jonathan Bate and Stanley Wells, on the 400th anniversary year of the publication of the sonnets:

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Our next reading:  King Henry VI, Part Two, Act One

My next posting:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning

Enjoy.

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6 Responses to “But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,/ All losses are restored and sorrows end.”

  1. Eddie Chism says:

    I knew you wouldn’t forget to mention the Proust connection!

  2. Mahood says:

    Wow, your ‘followers’ have suddenly skyrocketed…361? Last time I looked it was 49 – hopefully there’ll be worthwhile comments added in the future.

    As for sonnet 30, I’ve always liked this one – it’s the only one I’ve managed to learn by heart!

  3. GGG says:

    I did watch the interview with Stanley Wells and Jonathan Bate. It was really interesting, especially when they said that they both believed the sonnets were more like a twenty-year miscellany with some connected sonnets, rather than the over-arching young man/dark lady narrative that many believe in. Thanks for gathering all these diverse resources.

    The legal language of this sonnet was fascinating, once it was started with the word “sessions” and then following throughout the sonnet. Never knew that. To me the sonnet speaks of forgiveness, regardless of “right” or “wrong.” Also, it isn’t clear for me that it is to a male or a female–I guess that interpretation is from context in the sonnet “sequence.”

  4. redirect says:

    Have you ever considered publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and woulpd love to have
    you share some stories/information. I know my readers would enjoy your work.

    If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shooot
    me an email.

  5. Tractari says:

    F. bune informatiile. Ar fi util sa dezvolti subiectele din acest domeniu.

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