Colin Burrow (ed.), The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems
pg 532 pg 533 76
- Editor’s Note1Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
- Editor’s Note2So far from variation or quick change?
- Editor’s Note3Why with the time do I not glance aside
- Editor’s Note4To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
- Editor’s Note5Why write I still all one, ever the same,
- Editor’s Note6And keep invention in a noted weed,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus7That every word doth almost tell my name,
- Editor’s Note8Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
- 9O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
- 10And you and love are still my argument;
- Editor’s Note11So all my best is dressing old words new,
- 12Spending again what is already spent:
- Editor’s Note13 For as the sun is daily new and old,
- Editor’s Note14 So is my love, still telling what is told.
1 pride 'ostentatious adornment or ornamentation' (OED 7). The word, like many terms used to describe the vitality which the Sonnets supposedly lack, has pejorative associations. The poem as a whole plays with the varied connotations of mutability in the period, both positive (bringing innovation), and negative (fickle departures from stable ancient points of reference).
2 variation here 'variety' in a positive sense. Many sixteenth-century usages of the word associate it with fickleness or discord. (The musical sense, 'repetition of a theme in a new form', is not found before the nineteenth century.)
quick change 'lively variety'. Quick may suggest 'Living, endowed with life, in contrast to what is naturally inanimate' (OED 1a) and contrast with barren above.
3 glance 'To move rapidly esp. in an oblique or transverse direction; to dart, shoot; to spring aside' (OED 2)
4 new-found methods The word 'method' in the period 1590–1600 was undergoing significant changes. Emergent senses include: 'A special form of procedure adopted in any branch of mental activity' (OED 2a) and 'a way of doing anything, esp. according to a defined and regular plan' (OED 3a; first cited in Errors 2.2.34); 'an author's design or plan' (OED 6a, first cited from 1 Henry VI 3.1.13: 'the method of my pen'); 'A regular, systematic arrangement of literary materials; a methodical exposition' OED 6b). As Puttenham put it, 5: 'If Poesy be now an Art … and yet were none, until by studious persons fashioned and reduced into a method of rules and precepts'. Shakespeare describes his verse as lacking innovation in language which draws on recent literary criticism and displays his own powers of linguistic innovation.
4 compounds strange OED suggests 'A compound word, a verbal compound' (OED 2c). At the end of Jonson's Poetaster Crispinus, a character representing John Marston, is made to vomit out his polysyllabic coinages. Compound epithets were, however, favourites with Shakespeare. The phrase plays on 'A compound substance; spec. a compounded drug, as opposed to "simples" ' (OED 2a), exploiting the potentially poisonous effect of such medicines to suggest that strange words can kill. Compare Cymbeline 1.5.8: 'These most poisonous compounds', which is OED's first citation of this sense.
5 all one constantly the same
6 noted weed familiar dress
7 tell] malone (conj. Capell); fel q; fell lintot; sell conj. This edition
7 tell relate. Q reads 'fel'.
8 their birth 'Parentage, lineage, extraction, descent; esp. rank, station, position' (OED 5a). The antecedent of their is every word, which is taken as plural.
11 new afresh
13 daily new and old The same sun bursts forth freshly each day. The triumphal image makes explicit what the many linguistic innovations in the poem have already made implicit: that Shakespeare's professed old-fashionedness is novelty.