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Shakespeare Sonnet 83: "I never saw that you did painting need"

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 83: "I never saw that you did painting need"

In sonnet 83 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, this gifted speaker asserts his desire to remain a humble servant of truth. His desire to offer only beauty that bespeaks sincere love will guide him to create honest art. This speaker is aware that many artists turn to flattering language to fill their poems with tinsel and tinker. This speaker/poet dramatizes the nature of a humble heart that is aware of its gifts, but he remains insistent that he will use his considerable gifts to create only works that represent truth and beauty.

This speaker seems to be taking a vow or making a pact with his readers that his works will always strive to represent only the most profound subjects. He will reveal his subjects in their own brilliant light and not add glitter to falsely enhance them. This poet/speaker knows that he possesses the ability to accomplish all of his worthy goals for his writing because he knows how deeply he loves his art as well as the qualities of divine love, truth, and beauty that he seeks for living his life.

Sonnet 83: "I never saw that you did painting need"

I never saw that you did painting need
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
That barren tender of a poet’s debt:
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

Reading of Sonnet 83

Commentary

The speaker in sonnet 83 is offering a heartfelt tribute to his own poetry. Also, he is revealing and dramatizing the harm that mere cosmetics smeared over simplistic, artificial fakery causes, as such harm damages and prevents profundity from taking center stage.

First Quatrain: No Mere Cosmetics

I never saw that you did painting need
And therefore to your fair no painting set;
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
That barren tender of a poet’s debt:

Once again, addressing his poetry, the speaker/poet avers that he has never engaged in mere cosmetic dressing for his poems. He has always believed that his subjects of love, beauty, and truth provide the profundity that his creations need. This speaker believes that he, as a poet, owes a debt to his audience, and this speaker vows that he will always pay that debt. Unlike many superficial poets, this poet/speaker will not condescend to use poetic devices such as metaphor, simile, and image for mere window dressing. His work will always reflect his dedication to heartfelt art produced by a genuinely workable method.

It is because of this dedication to his art that he bitterly complains from time to time about his periods of dryness—times when he feels abandoned by his muse. Although his basic premise may be based upon a complaint, he still manages to create a unique little drama that not only reveals his issue but always at the same time demonstrates the profound nature of his suffering.

Second Quatrain: The Shallow "Moderns"

And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.

Every time period has its genuinely talented artists as well as it less talented and even its poetasters and other fakes or pretenders. Even as the contemporaries of the genuine artists fall into the genuine vs the fraudulent categories, the "modern" way always brings with it those shallow writers who depend upon disingenuousness and cosmetic touches to make their poetry appear original, even as it merely shows pretension and conformity. Such a situation can be seen in poets who become critics in order to make a case for their own poetry.

A present-day example of this debauchery presents itself in the highly overrated poet and essayist, Robert Bly, who has fabricated the idea of "picturism" and then pitted that notion against a false definition of imagism. Such artists behave like adolescents, who must change their style out of an ignorant rebellion and an immature attempt to belong to something they do not completely understand. Instead of studying the nature of love, beauty, spirituality, and truth, they are content to dabble in "worth[less]" pursuits that lead to counterfeit art.

Third Quatrain: Base Instincts

This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb;
For I impair not beauty being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.

The poem may seem to impart "silence for my sin," but for those speakers, who limit their intentions to base instincts, this speaker understands that they "impair not beauty being mute." This sincere speaker's own poems will sing with "life," while the superficial will "bring a tomb." The speaker’s passion for life will live in his works because he has struggled to maintain his integrity, while paying homage to his own considerable talents. The repetition of his subjects will not be taken as "dumb" but will "be most my glory."

While this speaker may run the risk of sounding as if he were dabbling in mere braggadocio, he knows his genuine feelings will allow him to escape such a charge. He also knows the depth and breadth of his own talent for drama creating, and he is convinced that his artistic bravado will remain strong as well as accurate and genuine.

The Couplet: Poetry of the Profound

There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.

The speaker declares that his own poetry, because of the profound history, philosophy, and spirituality he has struggled to place in it, will contain "more life" than that of any two less honest poets. The speaker takes such honor for himself only in that he has been able to assist his own poems into creation. This speaker's humility can be achieved by the very talent that could, in a less realized poet, give rise to a presumptuous pride.

The overzealous fakes will always out themselves through their inability to remain consistent, as well as their through their vain attempts to make the vulgar and profane sound profound and sacred. Readers who appreciate fine art will always be able to distinguish between the genuine and the bogus. This speaker maintains confidence in both his own ability to write and the ability of his readers to read, understand, and appreciate the depth and value of his works.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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