Bathe the green meadows in golden rays of sunshine,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Color the streams with its heavenly magic;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
And then [the morning] allows the darkest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
In a mass across the sun's face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
And from this sorrowful world the sun hides,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Fleeing to the west unseen while the sky remains overcast;
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
Like this, my own sun one morning did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
With glorious splendour on my face;
But out! alack! he was but one hour mine;
But, alas, my sun was mine for only an hour;
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
The concealing clouds have masked him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Yet love thinks no less of him for this;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.
If the sun in heaven can be overcast, so can the suns in the world below.
Flatter...sovereign eye. (2): The sun here is compared to a king or queen - a monarch's eye is said to "flatter whatever it rests upon" (Dover Wilson, 134).
ugly rack (6): i.e., the thick mass of clouds blocking the sun's rays.
this disgrace (8): again referring to the cloud mass.
Between the time Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 32 and 33, the poet's entire attitude toward his relationship with his young friend had changed. While he had been focused on his own mortality throughout Sonnets 27-32, now the poet has a new and more pressing dilemma to jar him from his previous obsession. In Sonnets 33-35 the poet makes it clear that he has been deeply hurt by his young friend, who many believe to be the historical Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare's patron.
We cannot say what specific wrong-doing prompted such displeasure, although we can assume that the young man had many interests other than the poet, and he may have surrounded himself with other friends (and possibly other lovers), leaving the poet feeling isolated and unwanted. The poet's dislike of his friend's actions are clear from the overall reading, but also from his choice of words: "ugly", "disgrace", "basest", "disdaineth", and "staineth." Moreover, the sun permits the clouds to cover his face as he cowers off to the west, and the direct comparison is made between the sun and the poet's friend in the third stanza. Even though he denies it in the concluding couplet, the poet seems to resent the friend for causing a rift in their relationship.
As mentioned, the sonnet does end on a positive note with the poet ready to forgive his friend, content to accept that disappointment in this life is wholly natural. "Two Renaissance commonplaces, the sun-king comparison and the sun-son word play, are put to such good use in the friend's behalf that 'out alack', the emphatic but conventional phrase denoting the speaker's regret, seems no more than a polite formula. The excuse offered in the couplet may be unconvincing in the view of the next two Sonnets, but it is so plausible within the limits of this one that the quatrains seem to exist mainly to provide grounds for it" (Landry, 58). J.D. Wilson argues that you can trace the story of the young man's transgressions by reading the sonnets in this order: 48, 57, 58, 61; 40, 41, 41; 33, 34, 35; 92, 93, 94.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 33. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 8 Dec. 2008. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/33detail.html >.
Landry, Hilton. Interpretations in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Berkeley: U of CP, 1964.
Lee, Sidney, Sir. A Life of Shakespeare. New York: Macmillan, 1916.
Masson, David. Shakespeare Personally. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1914.
Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Ed. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
Wordsworth, William. Poetical works, with a memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1854.
According to Wordsworth ... The famous poet William Wordsworth wrote that "the appropriate business of Poetry, (which, nevertheless, if genuine, is as permanent as pure science), her privilege and duty, is to treat of things not as they are, but as they appear; not as they exist in themselves, but as they seem to exist to the senses, and to the passions." According to Wordsworth, Sonnet 33, for its "merits of thought and language" is one of Shakespeare's greatest poems.
Thoughts on sonnet order ... For the comprehension of the story of the
Sonnets, it is best, I believe, to regard them as consisting of eight papers of Sonnets, really
connected, but written at intervals over a series of years (from 1596 or 1597 to about 1603 is
the most feasible range), these papers not indicated by breaks at the proper points when
they were printed, but, with that omission, arranged there exactly in their right order,
save that the last twenty-six (Sonnets 127-152) ought to be intercalated bodily between Sonnets
32 and 33. -- David Masson