Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems
pg 528 pg 529 74
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus1But be contented when that fell arrest
- Editor’s Note2Without all bail shall carry me away;
- Editor’s Note3My life hath in this line some interest,
- Editor’s Note4Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus5When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
- Editor’s Note6The very part was consecrate to thee.
- Editor’s Note7The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
- Editor’s Note8My spirit is thine, the better part of me.
- Editor’s Note9So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
- 10The prey of worms, my body being dead,
- 11The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus12Too base of thee to be rememberèd.
- Editor’s Note13 The worth of that, is that which it contains,
- Editor’s Note14 And that is this, and this with thee remains.
1 contented] q; contented: malone
1 contented Q has no punctuation here. Malone's colon (often adopted) is unnecessary.
when that fell arrest i.e. death. Fell means 'cruel, deadly'. 'Arrest' can mean just 'pause or cessation'. The lack of bail referred to in l.2 would have activated the modern sense 'to apprehend someone' (OED 8), as in Hamlet 5.2.288–9: 'this fell sergeant Death | Is strict in his arrest'.
2 ball 'Security given for the release of a prisoner from imprisonment, pending his trial' (OED 5)
3 some interest some right of ownership or title (OED 1a), rather than 'money paid for the use of money lent' (OED 10a), The conceit here is that the poet's life has a continuing share in the poems; as the poems pass on after the poet's death to the friend, he retains a partial share of the poet through the poems.
4 for memorial (a) as a reminder; (b) as a formal monument
5 review] q; renew conj, G.B. Evans
5 review 'To survey; to take a survey of' (OED 5a). Manuscript poems in the period were often copied into miscellanies and 'improved' by the copyist. This activates the sense 'To look over or through (a book, etc.) in order to correct or improve; to revise' (OED 3a), as in Holland's translation of Plutarch's Moralia 1274: 'Dionysius had put into his hands a tragedy of his own making, commanding him to review and correct the same'. This would allay the unease of G. B. Evans, who finds the repetition of review 'rhetorically flat' and suggests emending to renew.
6 was which was
consecrate to solemnly devoted to you (like a religious shrine)
7 The earth can have but earth echoes the Elizabethan burial service: 'earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust', which was proverbial (Dent E30).
8 spirit monosyllabic. It may mean 'soul' (OED 2a), but its opposition to dregs suggests that it may also mean 'the sweet volatile essence' (as in OED 21a, just becoming active in this period), with perhaps a glance back to the idea of preserving life through the extraction of perfume in 5 and 6.
9 So then (a) when I die; (b) therefore. The past tense (hast lost) suddenly verifies the argument: the poet presents himself as already dead while he offers his consolation to the friend, which rings out like an echo from the grave.
9–11 dregs … knife The four noun clauses in apposition here all describe my body being dead, which is both the useless remnant of life (dregs), a thing that is preyed upon by worms, and something which is conquered in a cowardly manner by a person of no account (the coward conquest of a wretch's knife). The last phrase is problematic because coward functions chiefly as an adjective which is transferred from the wretch to his action, but is also used to register contempt for the weakness of the body (a mere coward). Editors have also fruitlessly speculated as to who the wretch is (Shakespeare, Marlowe, Death, Time, or an unnamed assassin are the favoured candidates). It seems most likely to be a generic term for 'any worthless person'.
12 rememberèd] q (remembred)
12 of thee by you
13 The worth … contains the real value of the body is the spirit
14 this i.e. this poem