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Edited By Katherin Duncan-Jones
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
Shakespeare's Sonnet 30
Sonnet 30 starts with Shakespeare mulling over his past failings and sufferings, including his dead friends and the fact 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 tears that are not used 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. 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 . Some view Shakespeare’s relationship with the young man as a homosexual one. 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. 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...”. This dedication is signed by a T.T. Some candidates for Mr. W.H. are: William Shakespeare, William Hammond, Henry Walker, William Houghton, and William Hughes
The 154 sonnets of Shakspeare's collection was published in the 1609 Quarto and they followed Shakespearean Sonnet form. When creating this certain form, Shakespeare focused on using 'English' of 'Surreyan' forms as templates for writing his sonnets. These forms consisted of sonnets that are made up of fourteen lines and rhyme in a fixed pattern. This pattern usually follows an ABAB, CDCD, EFEF rhyme scheme and ends with a rhymed couplet. The sonnet itself is also divided into three different quatrains, which are a unit or group of four lines of verse. 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. 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. 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.
Shakespeare sonnets also follow iambic pentameter which is also used throughout most of his work. 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.
The sonnet begins by using courtroom metaphors by using words such as: "sessions" and "summon up." Shakespeare grieves his failures and shortcomings while also focusing on the subject of lost friends and lost lovers. Others also agree that the poem about memory uses legal and financial language to help describe solitude and past sorrows.
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.  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.  It also means to call a certain quality into action  –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"  Finally, the third and fourth lines refer to Shakespeare’s regrets. In the third line, Booth says the word “sigh” means “lament” . In this case, the Shakespeare sigh or “lament” seems to be about his feeling sad about not being able to find the things he tried to find.
Starting on line five of the sonnet, the narrator speaks about not being able to fully reminiscence about his friends using his own eyes. He then recounts that friends of his are long gone within "death's dateless night," using the term dateless as time without limit. It does not mean that these friends are necessarily dead, they are just hidden in night, basically a night that will never end. Don Patterson also describes the statement "death's dateless night" as a more legalese and also a chilling phrase. 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. "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.
In line 9, Shakespeare mourns over past hardships and sorrows. Stephen Booth notes that the word “foregone” in this line could refer to Renaissance meanings of “lost,” “wearied,” and “given up” (9). In line 10 Shakespeare relieves his sorrows one after another. Booth notes that the word “heavily” in this line means “(1) in a heavy manner, laboriously; (2) sorrowfully. Tell.” (9). The last two lines again discuss Shakespeare reliving his sorrows. Booth points out that the word “account” in line 11 means “(1) a narrative report; (2) record financial debts and credits” (9) and the phrase “fore-bemoaned moan” means “already-lamented cause of grief…”
The couplet of the sonnet consists of lines 13 and 14, and they seem to be used to clinch the sonnet's ending. He used the word "dear friend" as if defining the friendship as something dear and close to his heart. It's as if the narrator forgives the past grievances that he went through by ending the sonnet with the words: "All losses are restored, and sorrows end," as if all the troublesome loses in the beginning are now gains.
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Cite error: The named reference
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