As food is to the body so are you to my soul and mind,
Or as sweet-season'd showers are to the ground;
Or as spring showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
And for the contentment you bring me I allow such inner strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
As the conflict between a miser and his money;
Now proud as an enjoyer and anon
Who takes joy in his wealth, but soon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure,
Fears that ruthless competitors will steal his treasure,
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Now thinking it best to have you alone,
Then better'd that the world may see my pleasure;
Then thinking that the world should see how happy I am;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
At one moment wholly satisfied by feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starved for a look;
And the next moment utterly starved for a look at you:
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Having or seeking no pleasure
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Except what you have given me or what I will demand.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
And so I starve or feed to excess depending on the day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.
Either gorging on you, or not having you at all.
So...life (1): As food is necessary to sustain the body so is the young friend necessary to sustain the poet's soul and mind.
sweet-season'd (2): The sweet season, i.e. spring or, specifically, April. Shakespeare could have been thinking of the opening to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales:
Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote ("sweet showers")
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.
the peace of you (3): Some critics believe that "peace" here could be a misprint. The great critic Edmund Malone argued that "the context seems to require that we should rather read 'price' or 'sake'. The conflicting passions described by the poet were not produced by a regard to the ease or quiet of his friend, but by the high value he set on his esteem" (quoted in Alden, p.185).
Another possibility is that "peace" is play on "piece" (as in "pieces of money"), in keeping with the theme of wealth beginning in line 4.
However, because of the contrast between "peace" and "strife" in line 3, the general consensus is that Shakespeare intended "peace" and not "piece."
'twixt a miser and his wealth (4): "As between a miser and his money." The miser alternates between pride because he has accumulated so much money and fear because his wealth may at any moment be taken from him. Like the miser, the poet is torn between conflicting feelings for his friend.
enjoyer (5): Invented by Shakespeare.
anon (5): (1) soon or (2) at once.
Doubting (6): Fearing.
the filching age (6): The miser's (or the poet's) ambitious competitors. The poet fears contemporaries seek to steal the young man's affections and financial support.
surfeit (13): Eat to excess.
day by day (13): Change from one day to the next.
gluttoning (14): Shakespeare's invention of the verbal form of "glutton."
The sonnet opens with a seemingly joyous and innocent tribute to the young friend who is vital to the poet's emotional well being. However, the poet quickly establishes the negative aspect of his dependence on his beloved, and the complimentary metaphor that the friend is food for his soul decays into ugly imagery of the poet alternating between starving and gorging himself on that food. The poet is disgusted and frightened by his dependence on the young friend. He is consumed by guilt over his passion. Words with implicit sexual meanings permeate the sonnet -- "enjoyer", "treasure", "pursuing", "possessing", "had" -- as do allusions to five of the seven "deadly" sins -- avarice (4), gluttony (9, 14), pride (5), lust (12), and envy (6). Such language of sensual "feasting" (9), uncontrollable urges, and sinful consumption makes it hard to ignore the erotic relationship between the poet and the young man. The notion asserted by critics like A. L. Rowse that the poet's feelings for his friend are "not at all homosexual" (Rowse, p.xvii) is indeed hard to justify.
Although evidence is not conclusive, it is assumed that Shakespeare is discussing his patron, the Earl of Southampton. Identifying the young man as Shakespeare's patron adds a deeper facet to the sonnet. No longer is the poet afraid that the young man will be stolen by another, younger lover simply for a sexual relationship, but by another young poet in need of patronage. Shakespeare is worried that his "treasure" is being "filched" by another emerging writer. Thus Shakespeare is in jeopardy of losing not only a friend and lover, but also his financial backing. Which emerging poet is about to steal Shakespeare's treasure? It is probably the rival poet, the wielder of the "alien pen" (78.3) who takes the foreground in sonnets 78-86. From other sonnets (in particular, 82) we see that the young patron liked to associate with his intellectual friends who were highly educated at the most prestigious universities. Maybe the rival poet was an Oxford man, like Lyly, Sidney, or Chapman. Maybe he was a Cambridge man like Marlowe, Greene, or Nashe. Whoever the rival poet was, he caused the insecure and covetous Shakespeare no end of grief.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 75. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 8 Dec. 2008. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/75detail.html >.
Did You Know? ... "Of the countless editions of the works of Shakespeare that show a frontispiece likeness of the poet, it is a singular fact that by far the greater number favour the 'Chandos' portrait. The face and features of Shakespeare as 'imaged' in that portrait are those with which his readers are probably most familiar. It is not easy to account for this, since the Chandos Portrait is certainly not the first in point of genuineness, whatever may be its degree of artistic merit. Possibly it satisfies more fully the popular ideal of the likeness of a great creative poet than does the bust or print just referred to. Be that as it may, the 'Chandos ' portrait, for various reasons, more than justifies its being kept in the custody of the nation as a very rare and valuable relic of its greatest dramatist." Alexander Cargill. Read on....