Yet sighs, dear sighs, indeed true friends you are,
That do not leave your least friend at the worst;
But as you with my breast I oft have nursed,
So grateful now you wait upon my care.
Faint coward joy no longer tarry dare,
Seeing hope yield when this woe strake him first;
Delight protests he is not for the accurst,
Though oft himself my mate-in-arms he sware.
Nay, sorrow comes with such main rage, that he
Kills his own children, tears, finding that they
By love were made apt to consort with me.
Only, true sighs, you do not go away;
Thank may you have for such a thankful part,
Thank-worthiest yet, when you shall break my heart.
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: “the accurst” in line 7 is elided to “th’accurst,” and “worthiest” in line 14 is elided to two syllables.
This song is a nearly perfect antithesis to Shakespeare’s song “Sigh no More” in Much Ado About Nothing, as here it is argued that sighing is the only appropriate response left to the grieving speaker. A sigh comes from the depths, in physical terms from the diaphragm upward; thus it is fair to say it is “nursed” at the “breast,” which of course also implies that it comes from the heart. And sighs alone have been faithful to the speaker in his abandonment.
The second quatrain deals with the more obvious emotions of a promising love-life that have long since departed: joy, hope, and delight. More interestingly, in the first half of the sestet, we learn that sorrow has even “killed his own children, tears,” as these were too associated with a love that does not actually exist. Wordsworth’s phrasing comes to mind: “Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
So, at the end, we return to the simple message of the start, that sighs are the only “friends” that remain. The speaker is quite simply grateful for this, but must add the twist in the final clause that he will be still more grateful for the final “sigh” that puts him out of his misery.
Next time (weekend of March 4): Sonnet 96
Jonathan Smith is Emeritus Professor of English at Hanover College, Hanover, Indiana.