Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul, and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed
Beated and chopp’d with tanned antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
�This sonnet may be a response to criticism of the three jealousy sonnets preceding, 58, 59, 61. Perhaps the poet had been accused by the youth of indulging in extremes of self-love, and this is the poet’s reply to the charge. In effect he acknowledges his guilt, admitting that he is indeed absorbed in a narcissistic orgy of self admiration, but he gives an ingenious twist to the ending by the discovery that his self-love is in fact love of the youth. This is yet another example of the theme of the oneness of lovers and the intertwining of hearts, here put to good use in the poet’s defence of his excessive jealousy and self-preoccupation.
The 1609 Quarto Version
SInne of ſelfe-loue poſſeſſeth al mine eie,
And all my ſoule,and al my euery part;
And for this ſinne there is no remedie,
It is ſo grounded inward in my heart.
Me thinkes no face ſo gratious is as mine,
No ſhape ſo true,no truth of ſuch account,
And for my ſelfe mine owne worth do define,
As I all other in all worths ſurmount.
But when my glaſſe ſhewes me my ſelfe indeed
Beated and chopt with tanned antiquitie,
Mine owne ſelfe loue quite contrary I read
Selfe,ſo ſelfe louing were iniquity,
T’is thee(my ſelfe)that for my ſelfe I praiſe,
Painting my age with beauty of thy daies,
1. Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eyeSin of self-love – Presumably not quite the same as selfishness. In Christian morality it is the opposite of loving one’s neighbour, and hence a sin against Christ’s greatest commandment. In AWW, Shakespeare calls it the worst sin in the canon, albeit in a light hearted exchange between Helen and Parolles.
Besides, virginity is peevish, proud, idle, made of
self-love, which is the most inhibited sin in the canon. AWW.I.1.134-5.
where inhibited = prohibited.
possesseth all mine eye – the eye is perhaps chosen because it is much involved in self-worship. It also stands for the soul or personality, as being the most expressive or radiant part of the face. Note also the pun on ‘all mine I’, i.e. all of me. to possess, apart from its more common meaning of ‘to own’ was a term used to signify madness, ‘being possessed’, and also in relation to the soul being inhabited by the devil. Hence ‘To be possessed by the devil’ was to have one’s soul taken over by the devil.2. And all my soul, and all my every part;My entire soul and every single and individual part of me. A similar expression of entirety is found in Sonn. 31:
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.3. And for this sin there is no remedy,this sin = the sin of self love.
no remedy – in a general sense it means ‘no cure’, and figuratively, no way of putting the matter right, no alternative. (OED.2.b.) Possibly here, because of the theological context, it also means ‘no absolution, no forgiveness’.4. It is so grounded inward in my heart.It has taken such deep root in my heart. GBE points out the resemblance to ‘grafted inwardly in our hearts‘ in one of the Collects for the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer.5. Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,Methinks = an old word meaning ‘I think that…’
gracious = full of grace, beautiful.6. No shape so true, no truth of such account;No shape so true – no bodily shape as perfect, right, proper, correct (as mine is).(OED4.b.) true is still used as an adjective signifying correctness, closeness to a pre-defined standard, as in ‘true North’, true to the line’.
no truth of such account = no perfection being of such value and so highly esteemed.7. And for myself mine own worth do define,I act as judge and jury in determining my own merits.8. As I all other in all worths surmount.As = to the extent that, so that.
I all other in all worths surmount = I surpass everyone in any and every quality. other is an old plural form. We would say ‘others’.9. But when my glass shows me myself indeedmy glass = my mirror.
indeed = in reality, as I really am. The looking glass is used several times in the Sonnets to bring the speaker, or the beloved, face to face with supposed reality. It is implied that it gives a more faithful and reliable picture of reality than words, or imagination can do.
Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another; 3
My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date; 22
Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste; ….
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory; 77
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That over-goes my blunt invention quite, …..
And more, much more, than in my verse can sit
Your own glass shows you when you look in it. 10310. Beated and chopp’d with tanned antiquity,Beated = beaten. This is an old form of the past participle.
chopped = hacked, scarred.
with tanned antiquity = as a result of old age (antiquity) with its tanned and dried skin. The tanning in this case does not refer to a sun-tan, but to the operation of tanning or curing leather, which was done in a tannery. The adjective is here applied to the agent, rather than to the object which is tanned, the skin. Beating and chopping may have been operations which were done in tanneries to make the leather usable. The skin of an old man, which the poet considers himself to be here, is stretched and wizened with age, as skin would be stretched on frames in a tannery.11. Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;quite contrary – sc. contrary to my former assessment of it.
I read = I interpret, I understand.12. Self so self-loving were iniquity.were iniquity = would be sinful in the extreme (in the circumstances just indicated, where it is self-love directed to a tanned and wrinkled old man).13. ‘Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,thee, myself, … myself – an assertion of the oneness of lovers. See for example:
What can mine own praise to mine own self bring?
And what is ‘t but mine own when I praise thee? 39.
which contains the same idea. The couplet turns the sonnet on its head by declaring that what appeared to be self love was in fact the altruism of praising the beloved.14. Painting my age with beauty of thy days.Painting my age – adorning my aged self;
with beauty of thy days – by association with your beauty. painting my age could also refer to verbal descriptions, (word paintings), or to the use of cosmetics. Since painting is in apposition to praise of the previous line, the entire couplet may be paraphrased: ‘I praise myself, because in doing so I praise you, and it is as if I were painting myself in renewed colours borrowed from you, which make me appear as beauteous as you are, both to myself and to others’.