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Sonnet 49

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IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not confuse “personal” for “autobiographical.” Many commentators have fallen down that rabbit hole regarding WS and the sonnets themselves, despite a complete and utter lack of evidence on the matter. Likewise, these are personal experiences, but not a diary from my life. My real life and my fantasy life rub shoulders here. Just as an affair of the mind, and affair of the heart, and an affair of the flesh are three very different outcomes of the same emotional seed, my emotional life feeds what you read here, whether it occurred in the world or in my mind. Either experience can be real and unsettling and profound. And there is a price to pay either way.

Sonnet 49

Against that time (If ever that time come)

When I shall see thee frown on my defects,

When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum

Called to that audit by advised respects,

Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass,

And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye;

When love converted from the thing it was

Shall reasons find of settled gravity.

Against that time do I ensconce me here

Within the knowledge of mine own desert,

And this my hand, against myself uprear,

To guard the lawful reasons on thy part,

To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws,

Since why to love, I can allege no cause.


It’s a theme in my life: You will leave me because I am unworthy. I will make sure of it.

Against that time (if ever that time come)

At a local coffee shop, I see a young man sitting at a counter facing the wall. I walk behind him on my way to pick up my drink, admiring his broad shoulders, his fine jawline, the play of his biceps as he turns the page of his book. Nice eye candy, indeed. On my way back, his face is lit from the window and I realize there is something familiar about him. It hits me. We hooked up on a dating app. I’ve seen him naked (impressive, I assure you).

When I shall see thee frown on my defects

He’s facing away from me, wearing headphones and engrossed in his book. I’ve come to the coffee shop in a state of disarray – unshaven and hair all akimbo, and not in a cute way. The lights were suitable low during our assignation, and I was at my coiffed best (at least as good as it gets these days); in the light of day, I fear I don’t measure up. I need to use the restroom before heading back out to the patio to continue working. Waiting outside the bathroom door, I am in his line of sight if he were to glance up and to the right. I will the small child I know is within to pee faster.

When thou shalt strangely pass

And scarcely greet me with that tongue, thine eye

I don’t know what would be worse: the look with no recognition (were the lights that low? Am I SO different in the noon sun?), or the look of recognition, slightly recoiling in disgust.

To leave poor me, thou hast the strength of laws

Since why to love I can allege no cause.

Mercifully, I don’t have to face either scenario as the child emerges and I duck into the loo unseen. As I attend to my business, there is a knock at the door. I am immediately annoyed. Can’t they just try the handle to see if it’s locked; why must they involve me? I mutter a curt “it’s occupied,”  dripping with the subtext, “you idiot.” I reach for the soap and suddenly realize that it could be him on the other side of the door. My heart beats faster in both anticipation and dread. I dry my hands extra thoroughly as I mull the possibility of the awkward meeting, and the crushing disappointment as I meet my fate, whether “frown on my defects” or “strangely pass.”

I sheepishly open the door to find a young woman. I note the surprise and disappointment of my reaction. He sits, oblivious as ever. I slip outside and sit at my table. It occurres to me only then that a third possibility exists: that he would have both recognized me AND have been glad to see me, greeting me with that impish twinkle of desire that made my heart skip that evening.

Against that time…

Q1 makes seeing my faults seem as inevitable as any accounting ritual: that’s math, folks; the numbers don’t lie. Even with the qualifying clause, “(if ever that time come),” the suggestion is clear that facts behind those horridly judgmental “advised respects” provide evidence of my faults that cannot be refuted. This is not so much an “if” as a “when.”

Against that time… 

Q2 contains the beautiful assonance, “Strangely pass and scarcely greet me with that sun, thine eye.” S has never sounded so dispiriting, and the lines touch my core as I speak them. This is poetic brilliance and acting gold.

In both Q1 and Q2, love alters (the lessons of S116 still far off) from whatever madness allowed you to see me tenderly by candlelight back to clear-eyed reason of the harsh light of day. And so in Q3 and the couplet, I gird myself for the inevitable. I have eyes: you are young and beautiful; I don’t deserve you. No one, not even I, will blame you when you leave.

But in the sonnet, as in the coffee shop, that day is not today. And yet, I am oddly living as if it were. What if…

(if ever that time come)

…you stayed? What am I to think of myself then?

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