O joy, too high for my low style to show!
O bliss, fit for a nobler state than me!
Envy, put out thine eyes, lest thou do see
What oceans of delight in me do flow!
My friend, that oft saw through all masks my woe,
Come, come, and let me pour myself on thee.
Gone is the winter of my misery,
My spring appears; O see what here doth grow!
For Stella hath, with words where faith doth shine,
Of her high heart giv’n me the monarchy;
I, I, O I may say that she is mine!
And though she give but thus conditionally
This realm of bliss, while virtuous course I take,
No kings be crowned but they some covenants make.
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 the final three lines, “conditionally,” “virtuous,” and “covenants” all need to be shortened by one syllable.
As I once heard on a radio comedy in my childhood, “What the big print giveth, the little print taketh away.” For eleven full lines of fever-pitch excitement, it sounds as if we have reached the long-deferred climax of Stella’s consenting to requite the speaker’s love. The poem seems to be spoken to a close friend, one in whom the speaker has perhaps confided, or at least (we are told in line 5), one who could see his pain whether it was confided or not. The second quatrain is addressed directly to this person, but it is no more specific than the first in bubbling over with the speaker’s joy. Only with the first tercet of the sestet do we get any form of explanation. The claim that Stella has quite sincerely (“words where faith doth shine”) given the “monarchy” of her “high heart” (the modifier tips us off that this is the Platonic soul, not related in any way to physical passion) is so exciting that our polished sonneteer becomes downright inarticulate for half a line: “I, I, O I may say . . . .”
That was the “big print.” The “little print” is the mere segment of line 13 that says “while virtuous course I take”; i.e., she will make him monarch of her heart, so long as he does nothing about it! The final tercet argues rather meekly and bleakly that all monarchs operate “conditionally,” or at least they all enter into “covenants” that govern their behavior.
Next time (weekend of March 6): Sonnet 70
Jonathan Smith is Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.