Were't aught to me I bore the canopy,
With my extern the outward honouring,
Or laid great bases for eternity,
Which proves more short than waste or ruining;
Have I not seen dwellers on form and favour
Lose all, and more, by paying too much rent,
For compound sweet forgoing simple savour,
Pitiful thrivers, in their gazing spent?
No; -- let me be obsequious in thy heart,
And take thou my oblation, poor but free,
Which is not mix'd with seconds, knows no art,
But mutual render, only me for thee.
Hence, thou suborn'd informer! a true soul,
When most impeach'd, stands least in thy control.
CXXV. Closely connected with what goes before. The poet, who has still in view affairs of "state," speaks of himself as having borne a "canopy," and as having laid great bases for an "eternity" which had turned out to be of the briefest duration. But the services referred to had been purely external, outside "gazing;" as contrasted with that devotion of heart which he now offers to his friend. The Sonnets generally from c. to cxxvi. may be regarded
as an apology or defence of the poet's conduct; but this comes out clearly in the conclusion of the one before us.
1. Were't aught to me. As if to say, "If it were necessary for me to
defend my conduct."
1-4. It is natural to regard as figurative the "bearing the canopy." Such must be the case with the "laying great bases for eternity;" and taking the last lines of the preceding Sonnet as referring to Essex and his companions, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there is here an allusion to Shakespeare's relations with Southampton. We may thus conclude that the poet asserts his relation to that nobleman to have been a "bearing the canopy," an "outward honouring," a "gazing" on his "extern," and that he had never been admitted to close and intimate
friendship. The charge of fickleness and falsity of heart is thus answered.
3. Or laid great bases, &c. There is probably still some thought of a
pyramid in the poet's mind. The reference is probably to the Dedication to the Lucrece, "The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end," &c. But there may be allusion also to the Venus and Adonis.
4. Proves. So Q. Notice that it is the anticipated "eternity" which "proves more short" than ruin and destruction.
5, 6. Persons admitted only to external relations, however sedulous in their attentions, may lose not only seeming affection, but incur still further mischiefs.
7. The compound sweet alludes to external relations and formal etiquette; the "simple savour" to close intimacy and heartfelt love.
8. Pitiful thrivers, even when successful.
9. In thy heart. Not "to thy heart," which would have been more distant. Schmidt explains "obsequious" by zealous, officious, devoted.
10. Take thou my oblation, as represented by these Sonnets.
11. Which is not mix'd with seconds. Which is all as of the finest, best
flour, in accordance perhaps with "oblation."
12. But mutual render, only me for thee. Alluding probably to the fiction of an exchange of hearts (xxii., xxiv.); so that the manifestation of love which the friend might show came from the poet's heart in the
friend's breast, and vice versa.
13. Hence, thou suborn'd informer. With reference probably to the person or persons who had brought charges against the poet.
14. Stands least in thy control. Such impeachment causing its love to be stronger, and its constancy more assured.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/125.html >.
Shakespeare's Treatment of Love... "For heights of poetic metaphysic we do not look in Shakespeare. He is one of the greatest of poets, and his poetry has less almost than any other the semblance of myth and dream; its staple is the humanity we know, its basis the ground we tread; what we call the prose world, far from being excluded, is genially taken in. And precisely where he is greatest, in the sublime ruin of the tragedies, love between the sexes has on the whole a subordinate place, and is there is most often fraught, as we have seen, with disaster and frustration." C. H. Herford. Read on....