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

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 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 would-be artists who possess little talent but are filled with bombast and braggadocio. As a dedicated artist and poet, this speaker has taken a vow to dedicate his art to love, beauty, and truth.

This deep-thinking speaker knows that artists must possess genuine emotion and profound thought into order to create. He has no interest in superficiality that might try to pass as art. He muses on the nature of art that will endure throughout the centuries.

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 musing on the nature of those uninspired artists who engage in lackadaisical thinking and whose lack of the heart-felt genuine in art creation may culminate in disdain for his own deliberate, dedicated works.

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 in the literary world. He has long 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 asserts that he has remained in the habit of seeking truth, thus, keeping his art from falling into the "hands of falsehood." He has always worked so that that his readers are able to trust his art implicitly. He would not let his creations deteriorate into poetastry, even if many other artists follow that route.

Just as significant number of contemporary postmodernists have sullied the art of poetry and caused its virtual disappearance from wide-spread readership and appreciation, that same ilk also worked their "hands of falsehood" back centuries ago, during the 16th century, the time period in which the Shakespeare writer was crafting his dramas. The speaker refers, often simultaneously, to both lesser talented artists as well as lesser talented consumers of art.

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 issue of the unrefined reader who remains incapable of comprehending the authenticity of this speaker’s poetry; he wishes to alert and inform those who think his gems are mere "trifles." 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."

This speaker is revealing that the counterfeit art aficionado who has merely a superficial interest and understanding is like a vulture who preys on art as a "vulgar thief." This speaker cares first and foremost about the truth in his art, but he knows that not every supposed poetry lover is dedicated to seeking and understanding truth with the same level of awareness that he is.

This speaker's profound, clever art remains his "most worthy comfort" and his "best of dearest and [his] only care." He lives with 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 that he can create great art; thus, he does anticipate and hope 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 overly concern himself with the profane attitudes of lesser talent. He remains well aware that he will always be faced with those who enjoy degrading and diminishing the genuine, being themselves fraudulent. However, the speaker will not allow that ilk to divert him.

This speaker 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, and others who lack his commitment.

The Shakespearean dedication to art prevails in each of his well-crafted sonnets. The poet’s deep thinking as well as his mature, God-given talent, continues to inform each piece. This poet’s collection of sonnets bestows on the literary world the highest calibre of artistic 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 false artists and false art lovers. He demonstrates his dismay at those who would deceive, dissemble, and unfairly denigrate. He demonstrates his faith that truth will prevail and will prove to be stronger and more resilient than falsehoods.

As this speaker explores his inner world of talents and gifts, he describes those kinds of fraudulent artists who may become quickly famous and then are quickly forgotten. The speaker knows that genuine artists work from genuine emotion and yet they also wish to have their works appreciated by their contemporaries and also for many centuries hence. The speaker has mused on the nature of his art, so that he may continue produce the dramas.

The speaker also reveals his deep hope that his works will be perceived to be well-crafted and that they concentrate on important subjects; he hopes to remain confident that he has produced his best works. In order to contrast his own deep attachment to those he considers to be merely "vulgar thieves," he has attempted to describe those that he finds lacking his devotion, those whom he disdains.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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