William Shakespeare – Sonnet 89
Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,
And I will comment upon that offence:
Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,
Against thy reasons making no defence.
Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,
To set a form upon desired change,
As I’ll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,
I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;
Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongue
Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,
Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,
And haply of our old acquaintance tell.
For thee, against my self I’ll vow debate,
For I must ne’er love him whom thou dost hate.
�The masochism of the previous sonnet continues, with the poet offering to submit to all accusations, real or otherwise, and justify them on behalf of the beloved. Here he recognises the possibility that the loving relationship must end, and that the youth is about to abandon him. But his love is so great that he will not indulge in any recriminations. On the contrary, he will defend the youth’s actions against all comers, and justify whatever disgraceful accusations are heaped upon himself by taking the youth’s part against himself. When the worst comes, and love turns to hatred, he will hate himself, for he cannot take a contrary position to that which the young man adopts. He must love or hate whatever his love loves or hates, even if he himself becomes the object of that hatred.
The 1609 Quarto Version
SAy that thou didſt forſake mee for ſome falt,
And I will comment vpon that offence,
Speake of my lameneſſe, and I ſtraight will halt:
Againt thy reaſons making no defence.
Thou canſt not(loue)diſgrace me halfe ſo ill,
To ſet a forme vpon deſired change,
As ile my ſelfe diſgrace,knowing thy wil,
I will acquaintance ſtrangle and looke ſtrange:
Be abſent from thy walkes and in my tongue,
Thy ſweet beloued name no more ſhall dwell,
Leaſt I(too much prophane)ſhould do it wronge:
And haplie of our old acquaintance tell.
For thee,againſt my ſelfe ile vow debate,
For I muſt nere loue him whom thou doſt hate.
1. Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault,Say that thou didst = Let us suppose that you were to. A continuation of the discussion of a hypothetical situation outlined in the previous sonnet, which is presented in such a way that one is unsure if the event has occurred or not, or even if the poet knows whether it has occurred. He remains in a state of limbo, but fears the worst.2. And I will comment upon that offence:comment = give an exposition and analysis of. See 85.2-3:
While comments of your praise, richly compiled,
Reserve their character with golden quill3. Speak of my lameness, and I straight will halt,Speak of = if you were to speak of. Being accused of lameness by the young man he would immediately prove that it was a just accusation by starting to limp. The statement is not a proof that Shakespeare was lame, but, as SB points out, it may be a reference to a criticism of the lameness of his verse, or his own modest assessment of it. halt = limp.4. Against thy reasons making no defence.defence and offence are legal terms.5. Thou canst not, love, disgrace me half so ill,half so ill = half as badly, half as damagingly, half as much. The simple word love set in the middle of so much analysis keeps the spark of devotion alive. It seems to transport one back instantaneously to a better time, a time when the innocence of love had not been sullied by distrust and betrayal.6. To set a form upon desired change,To set a form upon = to put a veneer of politeness on;
desired change = the change you wish to make, i.e. me for another.7. As I’ll myself disgrace; knowing thy will,knowing thy will = being aware of your wishes. will also had the meaning ‘sexual desire’, as in 135.8. I will acquaintance strangle, and look strange;I will acquaintance strangle = I will cut off all communication and friendship with you;
and look strange = and appear like a stranger.9. Be absent from thy walks; and in my tongueBe absent from thy walks = not walk in the places where you normally walk.10. Thy sweet beloved name no more shall dwell,in my tongue … no more shall dwell – roughly equivalent to the phrase ‘your name will no longer be on my lips’.11. Lest I, too much profane, should do it wrong,too much profane = too impious, too irreverent and vulgar to be admitted into the temple of your worship. The word ‘profane’ had a technical meaning of ‘outside (before) the temple, not being an initiate, and therefore not admitted’. Made famous by such poems as Horace’s odi profanum vulgus et arceo – I hate the unititiated throngs and I shun them. do it wrong – i.e. damage your name and reputation, by speaking of you and associating you with my commonness.12. And haply of our old acquaintance tell.haply = perhaps, by chance.13. For thee, against my self I’ll vow debate,For thee = on your side, taking up your case;
against myself I’ll vow debate = I vow to fight on your side against myself by arguing for (debating) your defence.14. For I must ne’er love him whom thou dost hate.
whom thou dost hate – to a certain extent this prepares us for the opening line of the next sonnet, but the violence of the word ‘hate’ still provides a shock. In connection with his loving the youth, or the youth loving him, this is the ultimate negation of all that has been said and experienced. The word hate is used somewhat sparingly in the126 ‘fair youth’ sonnets, but more fulsomely in the dark lady sequence. I give below the instances where it occurs in a related or similar context.
Such civil war is in my love and hate 35
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury 40
Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now; 90
But shoot not at me in your waken’d hate; 117
In the conventions of sonneteering, the beloved’s disdain was often described as hatred. Sidney for example (Astrophel and Stella) marvels that Stella can both love and hate him at the same time.
Now I, wit-beaten long by hardest Fate,
So dull am, that I cannot look into
The ground of this fierce Love and lovely hate:
Then some good body tell me how I do,
Whose presence absence, absence presence is;
Blest in my curse, and cursed in my bliss. A&S.60.