But be contented: when that fell arrest
Without all bail shall carry me away,
My life hath in this line some interest,
Which for memorial still with thee shall stay.
When thou reviewest this, thou dost review
The very part was consecrate to thee:
The earth can have but earth, which is his due;
My spirit is thine, the better part of me:
So then thou hast but lost the dregs of life,
The prey of worms, my body being dead,
The coward conquest of a wretch's knife,
Too base of thee to be remembered.
The worth of that is that which it contains,
And that is this, and this with thee remains.
In lxxii. the poet had said that it would be better that both he and his works should be forgotten, neither the one nor the other having just claim to immortality. He now reverts to the thought that his verse will live when he is dead. His spirit and life are there treasured up for "a life beyond life." Death can only prey on "the dregs of life."
1. But be contented. -- Looks back to the last line of lxxiii. That fell arrest. Cf. Hamlet, Act v. sc. 2, lines 347, 348:-
Had I but time (as this fell serjeant Death
"Fell" means "harsh," "inexorable."
Is strict in his arrest), O, I could tell you."
2. Without all bail. Accepting no bail.
3. My living powers will still express themselves in these poems. Interest. -- Property. Cf. xxxi. 7.
6. Cf. Martial, Ep. vii. 84, "Certior in nostro carmine vultus erit." The language of our text is stronger, speaking of the inner man, which is thoroughly identified with the written verse (line 8).
11. The coward conquest of a wretch's knife. -- There is no reason whatever for supposing from this line that Shakespeare had encountered highwaymen or assassins to whose violence he had succumbed, and who had
left him half-dead. The meaning is, that what of him had not been treasured up in his verse was mean and base, liable to succumb to the assassin's knife.
13. The worth of that. -- Of the body. Is that which it contains, i.e., the spirit (line 8).
14. And that is this. Identified and incorporated with my verse.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/74.html >.
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