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Shakespeare Sonnet 40: "Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all"

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 40: "Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all"

In sonnet 40 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker becomes ultra crafty, cleverly playing on the word, "love," as he again feigns an imaginary distance from his creations. This speaker loves his poems and his ability to craft them more than life itself. He has proven that love and his appreciation for his ability to write poetry in nearly every sonnet up to this point. And, spoiler alert! he will continue to demonstrate his love and loyalty to his writing vocation, even beyond this current sequence—"The Muse Sonnets" 18-126—that focuses directly on that topic.

The speaker’s ability to complain and yet create loveliness with language has become part of the mystique that belongs to the Shakespeare writer. His amazing talent serves him well as he pushes himself to continue his poetic works. In this poem as he addresses his sonnet as "my love" he demonstrates his deep affection for each poem that he has thus far fashioned.

Sonnet 40: "Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all"

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.
Then, if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blam’d, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet, love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.
Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.

Reading of Sonnet 40

Commentary

While the speaker often praises his poems, at times for a blistering little drama, he must appear to complain and even rail against them. Sonnet 40 finds the speaker remaining somewhat distanced from his poetic unity that he had declared in Sonnet 39, as he again seems to be scolding his works.

First Quatrain: Art Can Take All

Take all my loves, my love, yea, take them all
What hast thou then more than thou hadst before?
No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call;
All mine was thine before thou hadst this more.

The speaker begins by commanding "[his] love" to go ahead and relieve him of all that he loves. His poetry takes much energy, time, and dedication, so he affirms that he is giving in and letting his art take all that he is, all that he loves. It has already become apparent that this speaker's greatest love is the art itself, as he has affirmed repeatedly. But now the speaker remonstrates that even if his art succeeds in taking all of the speaker’s loves, it will not have more than it already has. This claim stands perfectly in line with the fact that his poetry already has all of his love—a unity which he can divide and separate at will, simply for the sake of dramatic creation.

The speaker plays on the word "love," repeating it many times with slightly different meanings: "No love, my love, that thou mayst true love call." The first love refers to the ordinary abstract referent, while the second directly addresses his art, thereby somewhat personifying the poem, and the third refers back similarly to the first abstract referent, except instead of mere "love," the speaker emphasizes it by calling it "true love." His clever word plays offer color and variety to his dramas. He employs them often and is likely very amused by his own shenanigans in language. Not only does this speaker/poet entertain an audience of other people, but he also entertains himself with his masterful language skill.

Second Quatrain: Playing on Love

Then, if for my love thou my love receivest,
I cannot blame thee for my love thou usest;
But yet be blam’d, if thou thyself deceivest
By wilful taste of what thyself refusest.

In the second quatrain, the speaker continues playing on the word "love" as he addresses his poem. He muses that even if his work takes all of his love, because of his love, the poem will assuredly be blamed if it deceives itself by taking his loves when the speaker will need his loves to enrich the poem.

The poem can deplete itself only by depleting the speaker. The speaker whimsically personifies his art in order to upbraid it for usurping all of the speaker’s energy, time, and, of course, "love." The word play may, at time, give readers a feeling of a whirlwind in the mind, keeping the ever so slightly varied meanings straight while at the same time assigning each meaning to a specific period of time. Without mentioning time, the speaker has engaged that feature to speak in quantities of wish, desire, and proper affection, never diluted with anything less than genuine feeling.

Third Quatrain: Robbed of Poverty

I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief,
Although thou steal thee all my poverty;
And yet, love knows it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury.

The personification continues as the poem becomes a "gentle thief," who has robbed the speaker of his "poverty." However, unlike a real robber who robs wealth, this "gentle thief" robs poverty from the speaker. The speaker has determined that an upside-down theory can get him over the finish line as rounds the bend to his couplet. Word play can work indefinitely as long as it genuinely communicates.

Paradoxically, the speaker asserts, "love knows it is a greater grief / To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury." This paradox plays out in time simply on top of the theft of poverty that provides the speaker with the entanglement that only his feigned lost love can possibly rectify. The speaker continues to reassure his poems that they will always communicate, despite the clever tricks he will employ and exploit.

The Couplet: The Nature of Affection

Lascivious grace, in whom all ill well shows,
Kill me with spites; yet we must not be foes.

By averring that "[l]ascivious grace" would be responsible for "kill[ing]" the speaker "with spites," the speaker repudiates the nature of affection that could divide the speaker from his art perpetually. The crafty speaker then seals the unification to which he has returned by demanding, "we must not be foes." This demand is, of course, greatly understated.

The speaker, however, is permitted to reinvent his argument as he likes in future to achieve whatever variety he may need. He knows he cannot repeat his arguments with exactitude; he must continue to make his works new, even as he rehashes old tricks. All those word plays and language tricks must still coalesce to make dramas that clearly communicate the speaker’s central theme of love, beauty, and truth—which always meld into the unity for which the speaker lives and writes.

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

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on April 26, 2017:

Mark, one of the fascinating qualities of the Shakespearean persona is his ability to originate tension in each drama. In this sequence 18-126, the speaker is contemplating his talent, his skillful control over his art.

In sonnets 39-42, the speaker is dramatizing a fancied division or separation between himself and his poem. He is creating this distance so that he can acknowledge the value of his creation without slipping into an ugly solipsism.

That he chooses to call his talent "his love" may at first seem confusing because adversarial, but it becomes apparent as the sequence progresses that the speaker does, in fact, love his own talent and thus his own creations above all else in his life.

Mark Tulin from Ventura, California on April 26, 2017:

The writer's obsession with his art doesn't feel like love at all. It feels adversarial and he seems to be stuck in the middle of it all.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on April 25, 2017:

Because I can discern no person in any sonnet in this sequence, I suggest that the group of sonnets (8 to 126) has been widely mischaracterized. It has been titled the "Fair Youth" sonnets and thought to be speaking to a young man. However there is no person, no young man, in this group of sonnets.

In this sequence, the speaker engages three ostensibly differing addressees: his muse, his writing talent, and even the poems themselves. As might be expected, the speaker even muses on writer's block in some of the sonnets.

Sonnets 40-42 specifically engage the notion of unity between artist and art, or poet and poem.

Thank you for offering your interesting suggestion, Glenis.

Glen Rix from UK on April 25, 2017:

This is an interesting interpretation.

The Norton Shakespeare suggests that 40-42 describe a love triangle. In light of this, I wonder if perhaps the writer is referring to the taking of his sonnets and of his lover by his patron?

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