Oft with true sighs, oft with uncalled tears,
Now with slow words, now with dumb eloquence
I Stella’s eyes assail, invade her ears;
But this at last is her sweet-breathed defense:
That who indeed infelt affection bears,
So captives to his saint both soul and sense,
That wholly hers, all selfness he forbears,
Thence his desires he learns, his life’s course thence.
Now since her chaste mind hates this love in me,
With chastened mind I straight must show that she
Shall quickly me from what she hates remove.
O Doctor Cupid, thou for me reply,
Driven else to grant by angel’s sophistry
That I love not, without I leave to love.
I suggest you click here to open the sonnet in a separate window, so that you can refer directly to it as you read on through the analysis.
Reading notes: In line 1, “uncalled” has three syllables, while “Driven” in line 13 has just one.
This poem is the first of a pair based directly on the ideas of Plato, and it is a syllogism whose conclusion is a paradox.
The octave is in “outie” or extroverted (ABAB) quatrains, that roll continuously through the statement of the first premise. The first quatrain simply sets up the familiar scenario of the speaker’s futile wooing of Stella, leading to her “sweet-breathed defense” in the second quatrain. This is the Platonic idea that we learn from, and are made better by, the pursuit of beauty, or that which we desire or love; this turns us from “all selfness,” or mere selfish pursuits.
The second premise is a “But” that occupies lines 9-11: since “what she hates” is the speaker’s own love for her, in love she is trying to “teach” him to stop loving her.
Ergo (lines 12-14), to love her he must stop loving her; it is a Socratic syllogism (or, coming from her, an “angel’s sophistry”), leading to a paradoxical conclusion. The speaker seeks help to refute the argument, conferring an improbable Ph.D. on Cupid, who, as we have been told so many times, offers the only case to be made against reason.
Next time (weekend of November 14): Sonnet 62
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.