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Shakespeare Sonnet 52: “So am I as the rich, whose blessed key”

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 52: "So am I as the rich, whose blessed key"

In sonnet 52 of the “Muse Sonnets” from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker is making a quaint observation. He has noted that pleasure is best enjoyed infrequently. The speaker cites traditionally celebrated occasions as an example of such infrequent enjoyment. If pageantry were held daily, its force for pleasure would wear thin. Thus, the speaker is reporting that he visits his own creations only on rare occasions. His constant indulgence in such enjoyment would also wear thin the pleasure he takes from visiting his creations only on occasion.

This speaker continues to find new ways to demonstrate his unique talent for discovering fascinating conceits from which he can dramatize and showcase his creative abilities. Just as he did in the thematic group, “The Marriage Sonnets,” this clever speaker continues to perform brilliantly varied acts of drama as he explores the nature of his talent. The main difference between the two thematic groups is that in the “Muse” sonnets, the speaker essentially has only one audience member and that is his own self (soul), which takes various forms, including his muse, his mind, and even the poem itself, which he will often address.

In the “Marriage” sonnets, the speaker was performing for at least two individuals: himself and the young man, whom he continues to cajole into matrimony. But he also kept an eye on the future generations who might read his poems; thus, he was constantly in the process of creating rich and truthful pieces that would delight and edify those readers who would come after his own generation.

Sonnet 52: "So am I as the rich, whose blessed key"

So am I as the rich, whose blessed key
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since, seldom coming, in that long year set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captain jewels in the carconet.
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special blest
By new unfolding his imprison’d pride.
Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had, to triumph; being lack’d, to hope.

Reading of Sonnet 52

Commentary

In sonnet 52 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker is musing on the fact that pleasure is best enjoyed infrequently; he then likens his enjoyment of his own creations to traditionally rare occasions.

First Quatrain: Rich in Treasure

So am I as the rich, whose blessed key
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

The speaker, in the first quatrain of sonnet 52, is likening his circumstances to that of a rich man who can afford to keep "up-locked treasure." And as the rich man would not "every hour survey" his possessions, the speaker likes to gaze on his creations sparingly, lest he lose interest in them.

The speaker possesses a "blessed key" that opens for him the locked treasure of his soul. That blessed key is his talent, his ability to compose, and his poetic creations are the treasure. He has discovered that he disdains "blunting the fine point" of his pleasure by overindulgence. This speaker possesses a keen sense of enjoyment and a sharp artistic sensibility, both of which he has discovered require constant care and modulation.

Second Quatrain: Forbearance in Pleasure

Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since, seldom coming, in that long year set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captain jewels in the carconet.

In the second quatrain, the speaker again dramatizes the act of forbearance in the enjoyment of pleasure: large dinner gatherings occur only a few times a year, for example, Easter and Christmas gatherings, or certain state events that require celebrations—all remain both rare and seldom by tradition. Celebrations remain "solemn" and "seldom," just as the emphatic jewels decorating a necklace or tiara are "thinly placed.” (The term, “carconet,” meaning necklace or setting for gem stones in contemporary English is spelled “carcanet.”)

The speaker is celebrating and emphasizing the fact that pleasure is best when mildly and infrequently indulged. It is a human predilection to desire overindulgence in those things, people, and events found favorable. Yet this speaker has discerned that intemperance ultimately devalues the delight found in their enjoyment. This speaker’s goal remains to enhance pleasure, not dull it.

Third Quatrain: Superior Zest

So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special blest
By new unfolding his imprison’d pride.

Because only occasional enjoyment provides superior zest, the speaker keeps his poetic creations locked away and infrequently takes them out for purview. The speaker likens his ceremony to the wardrobe that keeps the robe hidden from view, when the owner takes the dress out only on special occasions.

The speaker avers that through his schema of only rarely indulging in his pleasures he is promoting his wish to make something “special” even more special. When the talented speaker takes his poem out to review it, it is as if it is a "new unfolding." He experiences the pride of accomplishment that is "imprison’d" in the work, while if he overindulged he would blunt the very pleasure he had created.

The Couplet: The Blessings of Talent

Blessed are you, whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had, to triumph; being lack’d, to hope.

In the couplet, the speaker is addressing his sonnet: ‘your divine presence affords the ability to experience both victory and hope because of the rare value that has been worked into your very bering.’ The speaker is blessed with a rare talent, and he knows he must temper his appreciation in order to retain the pleasure he experiences from that talent. Through that rare talent, his pleasure finds "scope" for "worthiness." That the speaker possesses the poem and all it holds leads him "to triumph," and between the times of enjoyment, or "being lacked," he retains the virtue of “hope.”

Thus, lack becomes a virtue itself but it is a simple lack of intention. He, with complete clarity, limits his indulgences because he has learned the value of restraint. And he knows that the same principle applies not only to his talent but to all human events. Through his writing talent and his keen observation, the speaker has learned to temper his senses in such as way as to enhance the very talent that has spurred him on the enlightenment, entertainment, and eventual success.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: The Real "Shakespeare

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes