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Shakespeare Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

The speaker in sonnet 78 is comparing his substantial muse to that of other artists. He reveals that most examples of the engagement of a muse remains for cosmetic purposes of style and outward appearance in the art.

This speaker, however, employs his superior Muse for the purpose of creating content-rich, vital art filled with his favorite topics: love, beauty, and truth. Instead of merely constructing a beautiful, well-crafted sonnet form, this speaker is dedicated to establishing content of substance. This gifted, talent-rich speaker knows he is gifted and talented, he knows he can concoct sonnet forms, but more important for him is that he inform his art with vitally important words of truth.

Sonnet 78: "So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse"

So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.
Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.
Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;
But thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.

Reading of Sonnet 78

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

The speaker in sonnet 78 addresses his Muse with appreciation for her ever constant influence and power that elevates his art above lesser artists.

First Quatrain: Meshing of Theme and Subject

So oft have I invok’d thee for my Muse
And found such fair assistance in my verse
As every alien pen hath got my use
And under thee their poesy disperse.

In the first quatrain of sonnet 78, the speaker is addressing his subject, "love," which he reveals that he has so often "invok’d for [his] Muse." The sonnets all mesh together the theme and subject, concentrating on the speaker’s talent for poetry creation and his fascination for and interest in "love" and "truth."

At times, the speaker addresses the poem itself and at other times he focuses on his subjects. Here is addressing his favorite subject "love." The speaker claims that "love" has provided him aid "in [his] verse." Other subjects from time to time are attracted to his "alien pen," but under the influence of love, which he takes as his Muse, he is able to bring forth his "poesy."

Second Quatrain: The Singing of Angels

Thine eyes, that taught the dumb on high to sing
And heavy ignorance aloft to fly,
Have added feathers to the learned’s wing
And given grace a double majesty.

The speaker's favorite subject is akin to the singing of angels; even more astoundingly, the eyes of love have "taught the dumb on high to sing." The remarkable healing power of love even teaches "heavy ignorance" "to fly." The "lofty" rarified air of love even "add[s] feathers to the learned’s wing." Those who are already bright become brilliant through this all pervading, shining love.

This love furthermore "give[s] grace a double majesty." These hyperbolic statements serve to underscore the exceptional quality of life that true, unconditional love offers as it effects and flourishes in the hands of a master craftsman the art of poetry.

Third Quatrain: Pride of Accomplishment

Yet be most proud of that which I compile,
Whose influence is thine, and born of thee:
In others’ works thou dost but mend the style,
And arts with thy sweet graces graced be;

The speaker then imparts to his Muse, his love, that she can be "proud" of what the speaker does in her favor; his Muse remains the "influence." His inspiration has always come directly from the Muse. The speaker's Muse can experience pride in the knowledge of all the positive creations she has assisted him in creating. They will forever remain brilliant examples of the high quality of this Muse.

While comparing his inspiration from his Muse to that of other artists, this superior, talented speaker deems the others to lack substance. In other poets’ art, the Muse serves simply to correct "style," and even though the Muse’s "grace" may be well represented, it lacks the substance of the accomplished craftsman.

The Couplet: Style and Substance

But thou art all my art, and dost advance
As high as learning my rude ignorance.

The speaker reveals the difference between mere style and substance. While other artists rely on the Muse for cosmetic purposes, this speaker says, "thou art all my art." This gifted speaker's art represents all aspects of the Muse’s power, and thus his art "do[th] advance / As high as learning my rude ignorance." As usual, the speaker remains humble, giving credit to higher power, for he, as a poor servant, must always remain in certain "rude ignorance."

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

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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