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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
Shakespeare's Sonnet 30, one of his most famous, is a reflection on sad memories reconciled by the realization of the gift he has in his friend. A phrase from the second line of this sonnet has achieved a worldwide circulation in the literature of the twentieth century, with its concern with time: C. K. Scott-Moncrieff chose "Remembrance of Things Past" as the title for his English translation of Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. The mood of depression, with absence from his friend, continues and brings back to the speaker the thought of earlier friends now dead, and former loves now over.
There is speculation that Shakespeare constructed Sonnet 29 in honor of his friend and lover, the Earl of Southampton. Another candidate is the Earl of Pembroke. He continues this theme in Sonnet 30. The poet’s mournful recollections of his deceased friends are ignited by the lover’s absence and can only be cured by the thoughts of his lover; this exemplifies his dependence on his cherished friend for spiritual and emotional support.
The sonnet begins by using courtroom metaphors ("session", "summon up" (as a witness), and "cancell'd" (as a debt)). The speaker paradoxically describes solitary contemplation as "sweet," despite his inevitable thought on sad things. Shakespeare grieves his failures and shortcomings ("I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought"), and, although the tragedy is long in the past, he "weep[s] afresh love's long since cancell'd woe". The theme of renewed sadness in contemplation figures prominently in the sonnet.
- Then can I grieve at grievances forgone
- And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
- The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
- Which I new pay as if not paid before.
The subject of lost friends and lost lovers, which in this sonnet emerges only from a more general evocation of things loved and lost, becomes the main subject of sonnet 31, which may well have been written almost immediately afterwards and in which Shakespeare declares that all those he has lost and lamented are, as it were reincarnated in his friend.
The sonnet continues the themes of grief, but while it is a poem about memory its language is surprisingly legal and financial. The poet meditates in solitude on past sorrows, failures, the memory of deceased friends, financial loses, and on old wounds. The concluding couplet, however offers the compensation as all woes vanish in recollection of the “dear friend”.
The sonnet ends with a touching statement that in his thoughts of sorrow, when he thinks of his friend, "All losses are restored and sorrows end." The sonnet is much similar in content and tone to Sonnet 29 ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes...").
When I sit alone in silence and remember the past, I get depressed about all the things I don’t have that I once strived for, and I add to old griefs new tears for all the valuable time I’ve wasted. Then I can drown my eyes, which are not usually wet from crying, in tears for precious friends who are dead, and I can weep again for hurts in loves that are long since over and moan about the loss of many things I’ll never see again. Then I can grieve about grievances I had let go of and sadly recount each woe that I’d already cried about in the past, feeling the pain all over again, as if I hadn’t suffered over these things already. But if I think about you, my dear friend, while I’m doing all of this, I get back everything I’d lost, and all my sorrows end.
In sonnet 30 the poet indulges in just the sort of mourning what we saw him asking his friend- if somewhat ironically- to reject coldly in Sonnet 71 (“no longer mourn for me”). There are other relations between Sonnets 30 and Sonnet 71, especially in the tone of the two sonnets with their opposition between sentiment and marketplace. Indeed, perhaps it is the futility of marketplace methods in Sonnet 30 to appreciate the powers and needs of affection that leads in Sonnet 71 to the somewhat self-pitying indictment of the “vile world” in its emotional unresponsiveness. Both this sonnet and Sonnet 31 are elaborately metaphysical exempla for the homely proverb, “In love is no lack”; they may have been intended as such.
1. Sessions: the periodic sittings of the judges, a court of law (Seymour-Smith notes that the legal metaphor “adds notion of guilt and punishment to that of nostalgia.”)
2. Summon: cite by authority to appear at a specified place, require an appearance before a court either to answer a charge or to give it evidence
6. Dateless: endless, without limit or fixed term.
This is one of the most pensive and gentle of the sonnets. It links in closely with the previous one, (Sonnet 29) both in thought and layout. The discontent with life which was expressed there still remains in this one, as the poet surveys his past life and all the sorrows it has brought him. The language is quasi-legal, possibly based on that appropriate to a manorial court investigating discrepancies in its accounts. Hence terms like, waste, expense, grievance, cancelled, tell o'er, paid before, are employed. When the account is finally reckoned up, with his dear friend added to the balance sheet, the discrepancies and losses disappear, and all sorrow is outweighed by the joy of remembering him.
Poeterra recorded a pop rock version of Sonnet 30 on their album "When in Disgrace" (2014).
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- Works related to Sonnet 30 (Shakespeare) at Wikisource
- Paraphrase and analysis of the sonnet
- Analysis of the sonnet