Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written ambassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit.
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul's thought, all naked, will bestow it:
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving,
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tattered loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee,
Till then not show my head where thou may'st prove me.
XXVI. Designed pretty evidently to conclude, and to accompany,
when sent to Mr. W. H., either i. to xxv. or xviii. to xxv. There is
a curious and interesting resemblance between this Sonnet and the
dedication to Lucrece. Drake's argument (Shakespeare and his Times), that this resemblance gives evidence that it is Lord Southampton who is here addressed also, is certainly not conclusive. We
have, however, obviously a colouring of plausibility given to the assertion that Mr. W. H. was a person of somewhat similarly high station.
1. Vassalage. This word, like what is said in the sequel, is suited to
the high station of Mr. W. H.
2. Strongly knit. Malone compares the words of Iago in Othello, Act i.
sc. 3, lines 335 seq., "I confess me knit to thy deserving with cables of perdurable toughness;" and there are other parallels.
7, 8. The poet hopes that, when received into his friend's understanding,
"some good conceit" on the part of his friend may bestow his "all-naked" verse. "Bestow" here seems to mean, not merely "lodge," but also "equip" and "clothe," like a naked wayfarer received as a guest.
This agrees with the "putting apparel on my tattered loving" of line 11.
9. My moving. The poet, it would appear, in accordance with following
Sonnets, is about to commence a journey, probably of a professional
nature. "My" must not be conjecturally changed to "by." He hopes
that hereafter, under the benign influence of his guiding-star, he may
be able to offer something more worthy of acceptance.
11. Tattered. Q. has "tottered." Cf. ii. 4; also this "worthless poor
totter'd volume." Kemp's Nine daies.
On the Earl of Southampton... "The earl's love of learning and learned men is well known; it was, however, chiefly confined to his early years, and strange to say there does not appear to have been a dozen books dedicated to him comprising the two early poems of Shakespeare. Of the Earl of Southampton's regard for literature, poetry, and the drama, and help to learned men there is full and direct testimony, therefore a munificent gift of considerable importance to Shakespeare may be looked upon as conclusive, being perhaps like others at that time as much attracted by the poet's modesty and gentleness as by his merit; and his kind regard probably extended for several years." Henry Brown. Read on....