Sonnet 30

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Sonnet 30
Sonnet 30 in the 1609 Quarto.

(from the 2010 Arden edition, with modern spelling,
edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones)

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye (unused to flow)
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancelled woe,
And moan th'expense of many a vanished sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay, as if not paid before;
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

–William Shakespeare

Sonnet 30 is one of the 154 sonnets written by the English poet and playwright William Shakespeare. It was published in the Quarto in 1609. It is also part of the Fair Youth portion of the Shakespeare Sonnet collection where he writes about his affection for an unknown young man. While it is not known exactly when Sonnet 30 was written, most scholars agree that is was written between 1595 and 1600. It is written in Shakespearean form, a sonnet form that Shakespeare created combining the 'English'/'Surreyan' with the Italian form. It is composed of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, divided into three quatrains and a couplet.

Within the sonnet, the narrator spends time remembering and reflecting on sad memories of a dear friend. He grieves of his shortcomings and failures, while also remembering happier memories. The narrator uses legal metaphors throughout the sonnet to describe the sadness that he goes through when his friend is forever gone and only exists in his memories. Then in the final couplet, the narrator changes his tone about the failures, as if the losses are now merely gains for himself.


Sonnet 30 starts with Shakespeare mulling over his past failings and sufferings, including his dead friends and that he feels that he hasn't done anything useful. But in the final couplet Shakespeare comments on how thinking about his friend helps him to recover all of the things that he's lost, and it allows him stop mourning over all that has happened in the past.

The following is a paraphrase of the sonnet:

                When I begin to drift into the realm of sweet thoughts,
                I start to remember what I've done in the past,
                I sigh when I remember the things I couldn't find,
                I sadly ponder all of the time I have wasted:
                And I weep freely with eyes that do not cry often,
                For dear friends who have died countless years before,
                And I weep for the lovers I have never been able to keep,
                And mourn the loss of those lovers that have vanished in a mist.
                Then I sob over past hardships and difficult trials,
                And relive one sorrow after another over and over,
                As I recount all of the pain and sadness I have felt,
                Which I am forced to feel again, as I have done so before;
                   But when I begin to fondly remember you, my dear friend,
                   Everything I lost is given back to me, and all sadness leaves me.


Sonnet 30 is thought to be among the first group of sonnets concerning a fair young man, 1-126.[2] The young man, as mentioned in some of Shakespeare's other sonnets, is described as being a good-looking young man who is gentle, and seems to possess a never ending supply of virtues.[2] Some view Shakespeare's relationship with the young man as a homosexual one.[3] However, it is also possible that Shakespeare's sonnets regarding the fair young man are simply meant to display male friendship above that of romantic love between man and woman.[3] Indeed, there is even a small dedication in Edward Dowden's book containing Shakespeare's sonnets that references a mysterious "W.H", with the words, "To The Onlie Begetter Of These Insiving Sonnets, M. W. H All Happinesse ...".[3] This dedication is signed by a T.T.[4] T.T. is identified in the Stationer's Register as Thomas Thorpe, a publisher.[5] Some candidates for Mr. W.H. are: William Shakespeare, William Hammond, William Houghton, Henry Walker, William Hewes, William Herbert, and William Hathaway[6]


The 154 sonnets of Shakespeare's collection was published in the 1609 Quarto and they followed Shakespearean Sonnet form.[7] When creating this certain form, Shakespeare focused on using 'English' of 'Surreyan' forms as templates for writing his sonnets.[8] These forms consisted of sonnets that are made up of fourteen lines and rhyme in a fixed pattern.[9] This pattern usually follows an ABAB, CDCD, EFEF rhyme scheme and ends with a rhymed couplet.[10] The sonnet itself is also divided into three different quatrains, which are a unit or group of four lines of verse.[11] To sum it up the basic sonnet structure would be as follows: Quatrain 1 consists of lines 1-4, Quatrain 2 consists of lines 5-8, Quatrain 3 consists of lines 9-12, and the final two lines would be the couplet.

In addition to 'English' and 'Surreyan' form, Shakespeare also took note of the Italian form of sonnet writing also known as the Petrarchan form. It divides the sonnet into two separate parts: the octet and the sextet. The octet is the first eight lines of the sonnet and usually states and develops the subject, while the sextet uses the last six lines and winds up to a climax.[12] The main emphasis of the Italian form is to have a pause in the sonnet also known as the volta. This pause takes place between the octet and sextet of the sonnet.[13] A strong pause in rhythm at the close of each quatrain is primary law of sonnet harmony for Shakespeare. He does follow the traditional Petrarchan form while placing the chief pause after the eighth line for about 27 or so of the sonnets, but in over two-thirds of his sonnets, he places the chief pause after the twelfth line instead.[12]

Shakespeare sonnets also follow iambic pentameter which is also used throughout most of his work.[12] A pentameter is a line of verse consisting of five metrical feet while iamb is a unit of rhythm in poetry that consists of one syllable that is not accented or stressed followed by one syllable that is accented or stressed.[14][15]

Iambic pentameter of line thirteen from Sonnet 30
Stress x / x / x / x / x /
Syllable But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,



The poem opens up with the speaker remembering his past losses. The narrator grieves his failures and shortcomings while also focusing on the subject of lost friends and lost lovers.[16] Within the words of the sonnet, the narrator uses legal and financial language.[17] He uses words such as: "sessions", "summon", "dateless", and many other legal terms.[18] It's as if the narrator is taking meticulous accounts of his own grief and adds an unhealthy dose of guilt to the proceedings.[19] The poem remains abstract as the process of remembering becomes the drama.[20] About halfway through the sonnet, the speaker changes their tone. Instead ending with a joyous tone as if reminiscing about the dear friend produces restoration and gain, not loss.[21] Overall, the sonnet starts from a funeral gloom, through bankruptcy, to a happy ending. Sonnet 30 is like a Hollywood classic, or rather a classic that Hollywood might dream about.[20]

Quatrain 1[edit]

In the first line the phrase "sessions of sweet thought" introduces the concept of Shakespeare remembering past events. Stephen Booth mentions that the word "sessions" refers to judges sitting in a court of law.[18] Booth also notes that in line two the word "summon" is also a court term, which means to be called upon by the court or some authority to either provide evidence or answer a charge.[22] It also means to call a certain quality into action[22] –such as Shakespeare calling his memories to his mind. Helen Vendler also notes that there is slight pause in the phrase "sessions of sweet thought", because Shakespeare's thoughts eventually become painfully rather than "sweet".[23] Finally, the third and fourth lines refer to Shakespeare's regrets. In the third line, Booth says the word "sigh" means "lament".[22]

Quatrain 2[edit]

Starting on line five of the sonnet, the narrator speaks about not being able to fully reminiscence about his friends using his own eyes.[24] He then recounts that friends of his are long gone within "death's dateless night," using the term dateless as time without limit.[25] It does not mean that these friends are necessarily dead, they are just hidden in night, basically a night that will never end.[26] Don Patterson also describes the statement "death's dateless night" as a more legalese and also a chilling phrase.[27] Further into the quatrain the narrator uses the term cancelled to describe the relationship with past friends, as if the time with them have expired. As if everything in his past has expired or been lost.[25] "Moan the expense" is also used to express the narrator's moaning over what the loss of "precious friends" and how is costs him in sorrow.[28]

Quatrain 3[edit]

In line 9, Shakespeare mourns over his past hardships and sorrows. The lines “from woe to woe tell over” suggest a kind of metaphor in which Shakespeare’s woes and failings are like an account book that he reads through over and over.[29] The word “heavily” before these lines also suggests that Shakespeare’s reads this “account book” in a painful manner.[29] Finally, the fact that words “fore-bemoaned moan” that come close on the heels of the words “grievances foregone” before it also suggest that Shakespeare is continuously reviewing his past sorrows .[29]


The couplet of the sonnet consists of lines 13 and 14, and they seem to be used to clinch the sonnet's ending.[24] It offers the compensation as all woes vanish in recollection of the "dear friend."[30] The narrator talks as if the joy of the dear friend wipes out all the pain of remembrance.[20] David West suggests that the couplet takes away the point of the beginning three quatrains by stating that the mountain of failure could be easily removed by the thought of the beloved.[31] Others agree by stating the couplet jumps out like a jack in the box[20] or that the couplet is just simply tacked on in the end.[27] Some also say that the couplet of Sonnet 30 to be weak, perfunctory, trite and gives an appearance of intellectual collapse.[31]

Allusions to Sonnet 30 in other literature[edit]

The second line of Shakespeare's Sonnet 30 provided the source of C. K. Scott Moncrieff's title, Remembrance of Things Past, for his English translation (publ. 1922-1931) of French author Marcel Proust's monumental novel in seven volumes, À la recherche du temps perdu (publ. 1913-1927).[32]


  1. ^ Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. (2010). Shakespeare's Sonnets (Rev. ed.). London: Bloomsbury The Arden Shakespeare. pp. 171. ISBN 978-1-4080-1797-5.
  2. ^ a b Hubler, Edward (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Princeton University Press. p. 6. 
  3. ^ a b c Hubler, Edward (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Princeton University. p. 7. 
  4. ^ Dowden, Edward (1881). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Oxford University. p. 112. 
  5. ^ Ingram, W.G., and Redpath,Theodore (1978). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Holmes and Meier Publishers inc. pp. , xviii. ISBN 0-340-09080-4. 
  6. ^ Dowden, Edward (1881). The Sonnets of William Shakespeare. London: Oxford University. p. 21. 
  7. ^ Mowat, Dr. Barbara A.; Werstine, Paul, eds. (2011). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Simon and Schuster. pp. xiii. ISBN 978-1-4391-1708-8. 
  8. ^ Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. (2010). Shakespeare's Sonnets (Rev. ed.). London: Bloomsbury The Arden Shakespeare. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-1-4080-1797-5. 
  9. ^ "Sonnet". Merriam-Webster. Merriam Webster Incorporated. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  10. ^ Blakemore Evans, Gwynne (1996). The Sonnets Vol. 26. Cambridge University Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-521-29403-4. 
  11. ^ "Quatrain". Merriam-Webster. Merriam Webster Incorporated. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c Baldwin, Thomas Whitfield (1950). On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Poems and Sonnets. University of Illinois Press. p. 345. 
  13. ^ Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. (2010). Shakespear's Sonnets (Rev. ed.). London: Bloomsbury The Arden Shakespeare. p. 97. ISBN 978-1-4080-1797-5. 
  14. ^ "Pentameter". Merrian-Webster. Merriam Webster Incorporated. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  15. ^ "Iamb". Merriam-Webster. Merrian Webster Incorporated. Retrieved October 5, 2015. 
  16. ^ Leishman, J.B. (1961). Theories and Variations in Shakespeare's Sonnets. New York: Hillary House Publishers Ltd. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-415-61224-1. 
  17. ^ Callaghan, Dympna (2007). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4051-1397-7. 
  18. ^ a b Booth, Stephen (1978). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Yale University Press. p. 181. ISBN 0-300-01959-9. 
  19. ^ Patterson, Don (2010). Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Faber and Faber Ltd. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-571-24502-4. 
  20. ^ a b c d Mirsky, Mark Jay (2011). The Drama in Shakespeare's Sonnets. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-61147-026-0. 
  21. ^ Cheney, Patrick, ed. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare's Poetry. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-521-60864-0. 
  22. ^ a b c Booth, Stephen (1978). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Yale University Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-300-01959-9. 
  23. ^ Vendler, Helen. "The Art of Shakespeare's Sonnets." First Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1999. pg. 166.
  24. ^ a b Duncan-Jones, Katherine, ed. (2010). Shakespeare's Sonnets (Rev. ed.). London: Bloomsbury The Arden Shakespeare. p. 170. ISBN 978-1-4080-1797-5. 
  25. ^ a b Booth, Stephen, ed. (1977). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Yale University Press. p. 182. ISBN 0-300-02495-9. 
  26. ^ West, David, ed. (2007). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Duckworth Overlook. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-58567-921-8. 
  27. ^ a b Patterson, Don (2010). Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: Faber and Faber Ltd. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-571-24502-4. 
  28. ^ Thomas, Tyler (1989). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: David Nutt. p. 188. 
  29. ^ a b c Duncan-Jones, Katherine (2010). Shakespeare's Sonnets. London: The Arden Shakespeare. p. 30. 
  30. ^ Callaghan, Dympna (2006). Shakspeare's Sonnets (1st ed.). Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4051-1398-4. 
  31. ^ a b West, David, ed. (2007). Shakespeare's Sonnets with a New Commentary by David West. Duckworth Overlook. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-58567-921-8. 
  32. ^ Pericles Lewis - Cambridge Introduction to Modernism, Cambridge University Press, 2007.


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  • Booth, Stephen (1977). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Yale University Press, New Haven.
  • Evans, G. Blakemore, Anthony Hecht, (1996). Shakespeare's Sonnets. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Hubler, Edwin (1952). The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
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  • Schoenfeldt, Michael (2007). The Sonnets: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s Poetry. Patrick Cheney, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Tyler, Thomas (1989). Shakespeare’s Sonnets. London D. Nutt.
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