Updated date:

Shakespeare Sonnet 56: "Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

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 56: "Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said"

In sonnet 56 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker is describing the love that the true devotee of the Divine Reality experiences. He is addressing love itself, but interestingly without personifying that valuable quality. In this section of the sonnet sequence ("The Muse Sonnets" 18-126), the speaker variously addresses his talent, his muse, his poem, and in sonnet 56, he is addressing the very subject of the poem, as continues his description.

This speaker has declared that he is interested only in creating art that expresses beauty and truth. Thus, he believes and often suggests that love is the most beautiful and most truthful of all subjects.

Sonnet 56: "Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said"

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpen’d in his former might:
So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dulness.
Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more bless’d may be the view;
Or call it winter, which, being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.

Reading of Sonnet 56

Commentary

This deeply engaged speaker is addressing the subject of love, placing that virtue center stage in his little drama, fitted into his "little song." The pinnacle of his trinity of major subjects and delights is love, with the other two qualities truth and beauty featuring strongly in his chest of poetic tools.

First Quatrain: The Transcendental State of Love

Sweet love, renew thy force; be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but to-day by feeding is allay’d,
To-morrow sharpen’d in his former might:

The speaker addresses his favorite subject, his concept of divine love. He avers that this special love has the remarkable ability to replenish itself. Sweet love or soul love exists in an eternal, transcendental state, not like ordinary physical appetite/hunger, that although fed, will return again and again.

Sweet love, however, exists as a perpetual force. It is ever renewed on the ethereal plane. Sweet love emanates from the Divine Creator (God) and resides in the soul, as a spark of that Divinity. It possesses an "edge" that is never "blunter than appetite." The speaker is dramatizing this special soul love as he delineates its elongated perpetuity.

Second Quatrain: Mystical Intoxication

So, love, be thou; although to-day thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, even till they wink with fulness,
To-morrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dulness.

In the second quatrain, continuing to address "love," the speaker asserts that this special level of love fulfills the yearning for love as no physical level ever can do. True, mystical, soul love remains alive, fresh, ever-new; this, that special love can never become tainted or dull. Without personifying the character of love, the speaker describes the substance of love as concretely as any physical level of being could ever appear.

One may become overfull of drink or food, but of this soul love, the hunger or desire remains although the lover is satiated. This specialized level of "love" is the same as that described by Emily Dickinson’s speaker as a "liquor never brewed." The lover may drink his/her fill of this love and still remain in a state of joyful awareness, never becoming a victim of the hang-over, as the ordinary drunk may, but always remaining divinely tipsy.

The nature of divine intoxication delivered through the mystical implements of the abstract qualities renders that state capable of remaining one of an ever renewing blissful experience—an experience that remains permanent even as it changes from one joyful form to another.

Third Quatrain: The Satisfying Permanence of Soul Love

Let this sad interim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more bless’d may be the view;

With ordinary romantic love, the lovers part and experience emptiness during the "sad interim." The lovers may feel that they are separated by space as wide as the ocean. And when the lovers once again appear in each other’s sight, they think they are "more blest" and feel the "[r]eturn of love."

But with soul love, the love remains and fills not only the lovers’ eyes and ears and other senses but affords a self-alertness that allows the lover to remain ever wrapped in the arms of the Belovèd. No ocean can separate this pair. They remain on the "banks" of this permanent Ocean of Love.

The Couplet: Love of Summer, Care of Winter

Or call it winter, which, being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wish’d, more rare.

On the ordinary physical level of being where "winter" will bring its chill to even the warmest romantic relationship, the lovers will find themselves "full of care." But soul love beckons with a perpetual "summer’s welcome," even though it is rarer than the vestiges of ordinary love. The lovers will yearn three-times more strongly for this level of soul love, even before they are aware of that yearning.

The speaker has been reminding himself of his inner life, where his trinity of art—truth, beauty, and love—reside perpetually. As he muses on love with the possibility of losing its glow, he is able to compare love to other qualities. A metaphorical comparison to an annual season allows him to contemplate the strength of the quality of love.

As he makes his comparisons, he becomes capable of distinguishing levels of awareness, levels of desires, and levels of artist necessity. He has already determined the importance of genuine art and dedicated his attention to his trinities of arts and interests. Remaining for him, however, is the actual creation of that art, and he, therefore, continues to muse on what each quality—love, truth, beauty, genuineness—will continue to deliver to his creations.

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


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles