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Shakespeare Sonnet 48: "How careful was I when I took my way"

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 48: "How careful was I when I took my way"

Sonnet 48 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence finds the speaker exploring the nature of those who write drivel and pass it off as art. This artist/speaker also has a selective word or two for those who will remain incapable of comprehending his art because of their own dull-witted mind-set.

As a dedicated artist and poet, this speaker has taken a vow to dedicate his art to love and truth. He knows that only the hate-filled, talent-less, and false will fail to appreciate his efforts. Likely this speaker was aware that such doggerel spewers and fraudulent poetasters would continue to push their wares down the centuries, but he was also likely aware that his works, when contrasted with the counterfeit, would stand the test of time.

Sonnet 48: "How careful was I when I took my way"

How careful was I when I took my way
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unused stay
From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust!
But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou, best of dearest and mine only care,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.
Thee have I not lock’d up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;
And even thence thou wilt be stol’n, I fear,
For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.

Reading of Sonnet 48

Commentary

The speaker in this sonnet is dramatizing the nature of a certain kind of audience whose poverty of intelligence and faith might culminate in disdain for his dedicated art.

First Quatrain: Taking Great Care in His Art

How careful was I when I took my way
Each trifle under truest bars to thrust,
That to my use it might unused stay
From hands of falsehood, in sure wards of trust!

The first quatrain finds the speaker articulating that he has always taken great care as he makes his way through the extensive treasure house of literary devices such as metaphors, similes, images, and other poetic tools offered the poet/artist by the literary world of art. He has long rightly determined that he will focus on only the most profound issues of human life, and he will employ the choicest words to create the best works of which he is capable.

This speaker/poet has always sought truth while keeping his art from the "hands of falsehood." He has always insisted that his readers be able to trust his art implicitly, and that he would not let his creations deteriorate into poetastry as so many artists are wont to do. As contemporary postmodernists have sullied poetry and caused its virtual disappearance from wide-spread readership, the same ilk worked their evils ways back centuries ago.

Second Quatrain: But the Vulgar Reader

But thou, to whom my jewels trifles are,
Most worthy comfort, now my greatest grief,
Thou, best of dearest and mine only care,
Art left the prey of every vulgar thief.

In the second quatrain, the speaker addresses the vulgar reader who remains incapable of comprehending the authenticity of this speaker’s poetry; he wishes to castigate and inform those who think his "jewels trifles are." However, this speaker does remain aware that there will always be those individuals who despise the genuine in favor of the mediocre. To this dedicated artist, such an unacceptable attitude is his "greatest grief."

The counterfeit art aficionado who has merely a superficial interest and understanding is a vulture who preys on art as a "vulgar thief." This speaker cares first and foremost about the truth of his art, but he knows that not every supposed poetry lover is dedicated to understanding and truth as he is. This speaker's profound, clever art remains his "most worthy comfort" and his "best of dearest and mine only care." He lives in the presence of mind that the "vulgar thief" will be dismissed in time. He remains a forward-thinking artist of great talent, and he knows he can create great art; thus he does pray that he will have great readers.

Third Quatrain: No Concern with Profanity and Poetasters

Thee have I not lock’d up in any chest,
Save where thou art not, though I feel thou art,
Within the gentle closure of my breast,
From whence at pleasure thou mayst come and part;

The speaker will not concern himself with the profane attitudes of poetasters and charlatans. He remains well aware that he will always be faced with these degraders and hollow minds. However, the speaker will not allow such dreck and dreck-makers to divert him. He knows that his most important feelings are kept in "the gentle closure of [his] breast." False lovers "come and part," but this speaker will not be hampered by the fickle, the pusillanimous poseurs, and others who lack his commitment.

Shakespearean logic prevails in each shining, well-polished sonnet. The poet’s deep thinking as well as his mature, God-given talent, as per the poet’s wish, does beam forth a gem of beauty from each piece. This poet’s collection of sonnets bestows on the literary world the highest calibre of artist endeavor. Because of many factors, these sonnets remain a first class example of Cleanth Brooks’ “well wrought urn.”

The Couplet: The Mine-Field of Delusion

And even thence thou wilt be stol’n, I fear,
For truth proves thievish for a prize so dear.

The couplet allows the speaker to summarize his exploration through the mine-field of the deluded false artists and false art lovers. These degraded, feint-hearted poseurs will always end up out of touch, for the ability to grasp the true and the beautiful remains out of reach of those who would deceive, dissemble, and unfairly denigrate. Truth will always snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and will always prove to be stronger and more resilient than the falsehoods that fill the minds of poetasters and amateurs who gape and grovel beyond their ability.

As this speaker explores his inner world of talents and gifts, he could not help but ultimately contrast those God-given treasures with the poor quality of those who not only possess lesser talent but who attempt to push their despicable wares on an unsuspecting audience. Contemporary examples of those poseurs offer their fleeting, abysmal products even as they enjoy unearned success in their fraud. Poetasters such Robert Bly litter the literary landscape. And the poetaster president, who fancies himself a poet after offering two teeny-bopper pieces of doggerel to the world, remains nothing but a laughingstock, whom the literary world does better to ignore.

The real "Shakespeare"

Shakespeare Identified Lecture, Mike A'Dair And William J. Ray

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes