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praise what he conceives to be above all praise; and this, as he elsewhere says, is what makes his verse as but a “tomb” (Sonnets 17, 83) of the perfect beauty he contemplated; and he asks, or we may say he prays, that the object addressed might read (or accept) what his “ silent love" hath writ, using the figure that it belongs to love's fine wit to hear (that is, to understand), by what the eye sees of his verses, while these do but entomb the beauty they celebrate; except, as we may say, to those who the poet himself says have "lover's eyes” (Sonnet 55); for whose eyes, as the poet considered, the Beauty was but “ensconced” (Sonnet 49) in the Sonnets, or put under a slight hermetio veil, to be removed by those to whom the poet himself supposed he had given eyes (Sonnet 152).
Sin, therefore, in the sense of the poet, includes even the neglect of that duty of praise which the poet felt called upon to offer—“duty so great, [says he,] which wit so poor as mine
26. May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it.”
We do not hesitate to say that the Psalms of David will furnish many verses explanatory of the state of mind of our poet, only we must observe, that the poet had, in his aspirations, a worldly taint unknown to the Psalmist, in that it was distinctly his ambition to “write,” though he desired to write “truly” (Sonnet 21); for which purpose he sought the direct inspiration of “ truth in beauty dy’d.” (Sonnet 101). Our poet was sensible of this ambitious element in himself, and condemns it in the 147th Sonnet:
147. My love, [says he,] is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
It was the presence of these, as we may call them, human tendencies, that disturbed the poet, for they are incompatible with the pure ideal, or the ideal of perfect purity. Hence the rebuke of the poet to himself, in Sonnet 101:
101. 0 truant Muse, what shall be thy amends
[or, what amends can you make]
or, as in the 100th Sonnet:
100. Where art thou, Muse, that thou forgett'st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Dark’ning thy power to lend base subjects light? for truth in beauty dy'd is precisely that which gave our poet all his power.
A right conception of the object addressed by the poet, under the figure of Beauty's Rose, and a proper understanding of these lines, will afford, with the preceding explanations, the key to Sonnet 142, in which the sin or sinful loving referred to is not, as we have already said, any specific form of worldly sin, but the reference is to the self-accusation of the poet for having neglected to offer the due meed of praise, and for having profaned his gift by employing it upon inferior or unworthy subjects. Here we must see the kind of sinning referred to in the Sonnet, as the structure of the Sonnet will show.
The poet says, as if in defence of himself:
142. O, but with mine compare thou thine own state,
And thou shalt find it merits not reproving.
In these lines the poet points at the immeasurable distance between himself as a mere man, a worin
of the dust, and the absolute perfection of the object addressed, which is conceived as perfection itselfso perfect, as the poet would infer, that it should make no account of his imperfections, somewhat in the style of the argument of the 136th Sonnet :
136. In things of great receipt with ease we prove,
Among a number one is reckon'd none.
And then he proceeds (Sonnet 142) :
Or, if it do—that is, if the poet merits reproof, he argues that such reproof should not come (using figurative language):
142. * * —from those lips of thine, That have profaned their scarlet ornaments,
And seal'd false bonds of love as oft as mine.
The argument of the poet is, we say, that if he merits reproof for having neglected the performance of the “perfect rite of love,” or praise, the reproof should not come from the object addressed; because, first, of its own exceeding beauty, or perfection, which is so great as, by contrast or comparison, to make his own delinquencies, as it were, but as nothing; and then, secondly, because of its own illusory promises; which the poet means to say are
deceptive, inasmuch as they had raised in the poet the most heavenly hopes, only to plunge him into the deepest depths of darkness; its promises being compared to “seal'd bonds of love."
The reader may here be referred to the last line of the 22d Sonnet, in the writing of which the poet must have thought he held his ideal secure against all chances, as if under sacred promises, or seal'd bonds ; while its absence, or its withdrawing itself, (distinctly pointed at in the 87th Sonnet) is compared, in the 142d Sonnet, to robbing others beds' revenues of their rents; which has no other meaning than that poets (who are the beds wherein great works of art are conceived) have been robbed or cheated, as it were, out of their hopes of glory and immortality, by the fact, that the “gift," upon which their hopes had been founded, had been taken away; the possibility of which is recognized also in the 91st Sonnet, beginning,
91. Some glory in their birth, &c.,
in which the poet expresses his perfect joy in the possession of the one “general best” (for there is but one, and can be but one), only unhappy in that