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Shakespeare Sonnet 110: "Alas! ’tis true I have gone here and there"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 110: "Alas! ’tis true I have gone here and there"

In sonnet 110 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker presents his drama in a somber, confessional mode. He is evaluating the results of his behavior, as he rummages through his mental forest, trying to determine what he must prune out in order to grow in his true nature and attitudes.

The speaker is reaffirming that he remains dedicated to truth and love. As he offers the confession that he has been behaving in an unseemly manner, he now begins his declaration that he, henceforth, will reject that inappropriate behavior because, in fact, he detests that kind of debauchery.

The speaker has realized that he has been allowing himself to become too much identified with the material, physical level of existence. And he knows well that his gift for creating insightful verse will be negatively affected if he continues in that vain. Thus, the speaker waxes exceptionally philosophical as well as confessional as he vows to make amends to his muse, emissary and earthly representative of his divine Creator, Who has bestowed on him the amazing talent for creating dramatic discourse.

Sonnet 110: "Alas! ’tis true I have gone here and there"

Alas! ’tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gor’d mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;
Most true it is that I have look’d on truth
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays prov’d thee my best of love.
Now all is done, save what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confin’d.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.

Reading of Sonnet 110

Commentary

As he once again addresses his muse, the speaker is now confessing that he has been behaving in ways that contradict and therefore impede his progress on his creative path of dedication to truth and love.

First Quatrain: Admission of Debauchery

Alas! ’tis true I have gone here and there
And made myself a motley to the view,
Gor’d mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;

In the first quatrain of sonnet 110, the speaker admits—"Alas! ‘tis true"—that he has "gone here and there" in debauchery that left himself looking disheveled and miserable. He has been guilty of acting against his own better judgment.

The speaker confesses that has "sold cheap what is most dear," causing himself to regret his indefensible choices. All of his wretched behavior "made old offences of affections news." He has made enemies of those who would have gladly been his friends, had he not selfishly spoiled the relationships.

The speaker attempts to elucidate before his own mind and that of his muse certain behaviors which he now realizes can lead him astray from his cherished goals. He must lay out all the offenses in order to determine the best path to take in order to walk away from them and eliminate their negative influence on his ability to remain focused on his main interests of truth, beauty, and love.

Second Quatrain: Avowed Allegiance to Truth and Beauty

Most true it is that I have look’d on truth
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays prov’d thee my best of love.

Still in the confession mode, the speaker then admits worse behavior when he "look’d on truth / Askance and strangely." In many sonnets, the speaker has avowed his allegiance to what is true and beautiful, so this admission takes a remarkable amount of courage.

The speaker is facing down demons, as he works to become closer to his ideals. He confesses to his muse as a religious devotee confesses to a spiritual leader or to the Divine Reality. Fortunately, he can report that his former confrontation and engagement with wickedness helped him return to an earlier innocence. The more he was tempted by evil the more he realized that his soul, his own spark of the Divine as represented by the muse, contained his "best of love."

As the speaker continues his struggles against his profane nature, he becomes more and more aware of the evil that prompts humankind to evade their spiritual natures. Because he now disdains—even hates—his earlier bad acts, he becomes painfully aggressive in his determination to overcome all the trials and tribulations that might again hurl him into the realm of spiritual negativity.

Third Quatrain: Turning Attention to Truth

Now all is done, save what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confin’d.

The speaker then asserts that he has now experienced all that is necessary to make him understand that some behavior is unacceptable and that he is now pointing his attention solely to the eternal. He has no need to live by physical desires alone—"Mine appetite I never more will grind."

Instead of looking for satisfaction in physical endeavors, henceforth the speaker will remain focused on his "older friend / A god in love, to whom I am confin’d." He observes that his own muse—his talent, his own soul—represents what is infinite and eternal, not sense pleasures and the debauchery of the world which serve only to keep him hide bound and focused on the physical plane of being.

The duality, through which humankind must ever maneuver, has trapped the speaker as it traps all sensient beings. He is fortunate enough to have the brain-power with which to discriminate and determine the behaviors that will lead him to his cherished goals, rather than land him in the pit of degradation and misery.

The Couplet: Profound Realization

Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.

The speaker, after his profound confession and realization, commands his muse to accept his declaration and hereafter keep him securely attached "to thy pure and most most loving breast." He repeats the superlative, "most," to emphasize his awareness of the trust he places in the love of his Divine Muse.

This deep-thinking speaker comprehends that the efficacy of the spiritual level of reality offers the better path to a comforting and prosperous life compared to the physical and mental levels, where the duality of trials and tribulation of the world remain in command, and he cherishes his relationship with the Eternal, demanding that that relationship remain a close one.

The nature of this speaker's discourse might be likened to a prayer, somewhat secularized with his muse holding the sacred place of the Divine Beloved. Readers have watched this speaker as he has become more interiorized in his creativity. He loves his talent, and desperately wishes to enhance its power; thus, it is that he has determined to explore, find, and grow closer to the source of his gifts.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes