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Shakespeare Sonnet 7: “Lo! in the orient when the gracious light”

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 7: “Lo! in the orient when the gracious light”

The sun—that “hot ball of glowing gases at the heart of our solar system”— has always been a useful object for poets to employ metaphorically. And this talented poet makes use of it often and skillfully. In sonnet 7, the speaker now compares the age progression of the young lad to the sun's diurnal journey across the sky. People adore the sun in the morning and at noon, but as it begins to set they divert their attention from that fantastic orb. Playing on the vanity fo the young man, the speaker urges the lad to take advantage of his time as an object of attention to attract a mate and produce offspring, for like the sun there will come a time when that attraction will fade as the star seems to do at sunset.

Sonnet 7: “Lo! in the orient when the gracious light”

Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
And having climb’d the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage;
But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ’fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract, and look another way:
So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,
Unlook’d on diest, unless thou get a son.

Reading of Sonnet 7

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

In Sonnet 7, the speaker cleverly uses a pun, metaphorically comparing the young lad’s life trajectory to a diurnal journey of the sun through the sky.

First Quatrain: As the Sun Moves Through the Day

Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;

The speaker in Sonnet 7 “Lo! in the orient when the gracious light” commences his continuing appeal to the young man to sire a child by directing the young lad to muse on the movement of the sun through the day. When the sun appears in the morning as if waking up, people open their eyes in “homage to his new-appearing sight.” Earthlings are delighted with each new day's dawning. The appearance of the sun delights as it warms and bring all things into view, and earth folks seem to intuit that the sun possesses a “sacred majesty” when he first appears in the sky each morning.

Second Quatrain: Admiration for Youth

And having climb’d the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage;

After the sun rises and seems to stand overhead, earth folks go on admiring and adoring him, and then the speaker makes it abundantly understandable that he is comparing in metaphor the young lad's youth to that of the daily sun rise and journey across the day. The speaker announces, “Resembling strong youth in his middle age,” the folks will continue to admire both the sun’s and the young man’s beauty, and they will keep on treating him royally as he progresses through his “golden pilgrimage”—the sun’s literal golden daily trip across the sky and the young man’s most lustrous years from adulthood on into old age.

Third Quatrain: As Eyes Turn Away

But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ’fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract, and look another way:

However, with the sun beyond his zenith and seemingly moving down in back of the earth again, folks no longer peer at the phenomenal beauty as the darkness of night veils the earth. Instead, they then turn their eyes away and avert their attention from the once royal majesty that was the sun rising and the sun at midday. After "feeble age" has caused the young lad to go wobbling like an old man, people will divert their attention from him as they do when the sun is going down. They will not continue to pay homage to that which is fleeing; they will then "look" the other way.

Couplet: No One Will Be Looking

So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon,
Unlook’d on diest, unless thou get a son.

Then the speaker in the couplet blatantly confers to the young man that if the latter permits his youthful beauty to grow dim as the sun grows dim in late evening, no one will be looking at the young lad anymore, unless he sires an heir, more specifically a son. Sonnet 7 relies on the compelling use of a pun, an entertaining poetic device, as well as the precise biological sex for his heir. The speaker thus far has not designated whether the offspring should be a daughter or a sun that he so much yearns for the young man to father.

It has always been implied, however, that the child should be a male who can inherit both the father’s physical characteristics as well as his real property. In Sonnet 7, the speaker becomes definite that the young lad will forsake his immortality “unless thou get a son.” Metaphorically, the speaker is comparing the young man’s life journey to the sun’s daily journey across the sky; thus, it is quite fitting that he would employ the term, “son,” and the clever speaker undoubtedly held the notion that his pun was quite cute: sun and son. The prescient speaker is certain his readers will admire his skill in employing that literary device.

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

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes