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Shakespeare Sonnet 33: "Full many a glorious morning have I seen"

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

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 33: "Full many a glorious morning I have seen"

Sonnet 33, from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, extends a metaphor of the sun and clouds, dramatizing the natural phenomenon of clouds as they hide the sun. It follows then that the sun represents the metaphoric equivalence of the speaker’s writing talent or muse, while the clouds stand for the periodic spells of dryness causing lulls in the writer's inspiration.

Writers refer to this period of dryness, this period in which they suffer the inability to create, as writer's block. Yes, even the great poet of the "Shakespeare" brand did suffer such an indignity. The way this writer meets the challenge of writing should give hope to all who struggle to spread words across a page and remind writers to use that flaw, to delve deep into it, for the Shakespeare writer managed to pen some of his best sonnets dramatizing that fact of a writer’s life.

Sonnet 33: "Full many a glorious morning have I seen"

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all-triumphant splendour on my brow;
But, out! alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 33

Commentary

The extended metaphor of sonnet 33 dramatizes clouds hiding the sun, with the sun representing the speaker’s writing talent or muse and the clouds representing the lulls in inspiration.

First Quatrain: The Sun

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy

In the first quatrain of sonnet 33, the speaker reports having seen the sun’s rays on a "glorious morning" when they "[f]latter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye." The morning is made glorious by the golden-rich light of the life-giving star.

The speaker has also watched as the sun "kiss[es] with golden face the meadows green." The kiss of the sun literally turns the meadows green, and on "pale streams," the speaker has observed the sunlight "gilding [the streams] with heavenly alchemy." The sun’s rays seem to magically transform the water of a common brook into a celestial vision.

Such innovative terms as "heaven alchemy" reveal the creative thinking of the writer. Even as he offers complaints, his mind remains engaged in extraordinary thinking. Instead of giving in to melancholy, he keeps observing, rearranging, revisioning, and finally recreating ideas to turn them into golden metaphors.

Second Quatrain: Rays That Hide

Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:

However, as soon as the speaker has seen the wondrous marvels that the sun performs on earthly things, that same heroic orb allows "the basest clouds" to hide the glorious rays. The sun allows those ugly clouds to keep its beautiful face hidden as it continues its movement across the day from east to west. The speaker adamantly compares the clouds negatively with the sun and even deems the fact that the sun permits itself to be hidden by such an "ugly rack" to be a "disgrace."

Of course, clouds do not always function in a disgraceful, ugly manner—only when they have the audacity to obliterate the marvel that is the sun. The importance of sunlight on the earth renders the clouds a nuisance as they brazenly march across the face of the big star. Any diminishment of the sunlight that has been deemed the contributor to a "glorious morning" can easily be condemned when garnered for dramatic effect.

Third Quatrain: A Brief Glimpse of Glory

Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all-triumphant splendour on my brow;
But, out! alack! he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.

In the third quatrain, the speaker asserts that one morning quite early the sun was shining all-gloriously on his very "brow," and the first thing you know, another cloud came along and "mask’d" the wonderful rays from his face. The speaker was allowed the glory of the sun on his face "but one hour."

The speaker is dramatizing the wondrous feeling of the sun on his face, but then along comes another cloud to interfere with that sunbath. The short period of time of only an hour was not enough time.

Remembering that the sun is the metaphor for his writing muse, the reader will realize that the speaker is saying that a burst of inspiration for writing was his for only an hour, and writers need much more time for musing on, contemplating, and then composing their creations.

The Couplet: A Pun for Sun

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

The speaker finally vows that despite its so easily giving in to hiding behind clouds, he loves the bright star no less and avers, "Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth." The speaker is punning "suns" for "sons." Sons of the earth "stain" with ink on a page, if they are possessed of the talent with which the speaker is so abundantly possessed.

Therefore, those with talent enough are like the sun; even as they suffer low periods of inspiration, they continue to be as inspired as the sun does continue to shine despite the clouds. Regardless of whether the sun’s rays are visible to those on earth, the sun continues to influence all living creatures and all phenomena such as mountain-tops, meadows, and streams.

The Sun as Metaphor

Sonnet 33 is highly metaphorical; it is, in fact, an extended metaphor. The sun is metaphorically compared to the artist’s talent or muse. Clouds dramatize the periods of dryness of inspiration to compose. The poet then is able to realize that in spite of the lulls, his talent, like the sun, remains always with him and is always motivating him to keep that being in him, recognized as the artist, and the artist’s love alive and well functioning.

This speaker demonstrates the learning process included in his musing. He will begin with a conundrum, often including a complaint; he will then offer observations along with explanations that he finally puts together, forming a valid conclusion. This thinking process follows his natural ability to see creatively, and his writing skill then allows him to select marvelous images, metaphors, and endearing terms with which he fashions his little songs, his little dramas.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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