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Shakespeare Sonnet 49: "Against that time, if ever that time come"

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 - The real "Shakespeare"

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 49: "Against that time, if ever that time come"

Sonnet 49, in the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, is structured by the phrase, "Against that time," meaning to guard against the time when certain events may occur. The first two quatrains reveal the events, while the third along with the couplet reveal what the speaker-poet intends to do about it.

The speaker is addressing his muse in sonnet 49. The speaker is aware and somewhat fearful that at any time and especially likely in future his muse might abandon him. Thus, he fears losing inspiration for writing. But this speaker is equal to any occurrence and therefore lets his muse know that he is equal to the task of carrying on without the muse's promptings. The speaker is likely attempting to convince himself of his determination never to suffer from lack of inspiration in his creative writing life.

Shakespeare Sonnet 49: "Against that time, if ever that time come"

Against that time, if ever that time come
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Call’d to that audit by advis’d respects;
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity;
Against that time do I ensconce me here
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand against myself uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause.

Reading of Sonnet 49

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles


The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel: "When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text." APA does not address this issue.

Commentary

Writer's block—which may include loss of inspiration for creative endeavors—causes writers untold suffering and melancholy. This highly creative and talented speaker is addressing his muse—warning that he will do whatever it takes to secure himself from any possible future loss of inspiration.

First Quatrain: Hesitation Before Prediction

Against that time, if ever that time come
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Call’d to that audit by advis’d respects;

In the first quatrain, the speaker hesitates by adding, "if ever that time come," because he does not want to predict that such losses will definitely occur. He is covering himself: if they occur, he will be prepared, and, of course, if they do not occur, he has lost nothing by being prepared. But if that undesirable time comes to pass, it will be that his muse looks on him with a "frown" instead of the smile to which the poet/speaker has grown accustomed.

When or if the muse is "[c]all’d to that audit by advis’d respects," that love will have "cast his utmost sum," and the speaker will no longer feel that his muse bestows favors upon him.

Second Quatrain: Hypothetically, Without Inspiration

Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass,
And scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity;

That future cursed time would reveal itself if the muse would "strangely pass" and "scarcely greet" the poet as he tries to create. Instead of the "sun, thine eye," he would see "settled gravity." The former love that the muse bestowed would be "converted from the thing it was." It would no longer offer him the inspiration and guidance that he has formerly enjoyed.

The reader needs to remember that the speaker is still verbalizing hypothetically and also that the speaker is holding in abeyance his plan to overcome the possible negativity that might be in store with the loss of his muse’s affection.

Third Quatrain: Intention Combating Dryness

Against that time do I ensconce me here
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand against myself uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:

The third quatrain reveals the speaker’s intention: "Against that time do I ensconce me here / Within the knowledge of mine own desert." He will entrench himself in his own self (soul).

Even the dry barrenness of the speaker's own soul is superior to all the laws or reasons that anything outside himself can perpetrate upon him, including the subtle separateness from his own muse.

The Couplet: The Poet Keeps the Upper Hand

To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause.

The poet/speaker acknowledges that the muse has "the strength of laws" to "leave [him] poor," that is, without the inspiration to continue his craft, but the poet/speaker still has the upper hand because he has not designated reasons or causes for his love. The speaker understands that he causeless cannot be contained nor denied.

Muse vs Soul

In several earlier sonnets, the speaker has been exploring the delicate divergence of his muse from his soul, and in this one, he has continued with a slight variation on that theme. One might successfully argue that the entire sequence of sonnets addresses the issue of the classic struggle between mind and soul, or more colorfully between muse and soul.

The real ''Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society is  dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes