William Shakespeare
Warwickshire
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Sonnet Cxix

Rating: 3.0
What potions have I drunk of Siren tears,
Distill'd from limbecks foul as hell within,
Applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears,
Still losing when I saw myself to win!
What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never!
How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted
In the distraction of this madding fever!
O benefit of ill! now I find true
That better is by evil still made better;
And ruin'd love, when it is built anew,
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Fabrizio Frosini 26 February 2016
3. Applying fears to hopes, and hopes to fears, Applying = laying on, as one applies poultices to the body in order to cure sores, boils, eruptions of the skin, and fevers. This was standard medical practice of the time. The fears and hopes are presumably those of losing or gaining a lover. 4. Still losing when I saw myself to win! Always failing to achieve my desires even though I thought I was successful. still = always. when I saw myself to win = when I imagined that I was winning (a new lover): when I perceived myself (erroneously) to be on a winning streak. The imagery is from gambling and indicates the false delusions of the gambler, who always imagines that the next throw of the dice will repair his fortunes. 5. What wretched errors hath my heart committed, wretched errors = misguided judgements, heresies, devotion to false idols 6. Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never! it = my heart. so blessed never = more blessed and happy than it had ever been before. 7. How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted, spheres = sockets. Also with a reference to Ptolemaic astronomy, a system still current in Shakespeare's day. The stars and planets were all assigned spheres in which they revolved around the earth, which was placed in the centre of the universe. Compare .......Thou rememberest Since once I sat upon a promontory, And heard a mermaid on a dolphin's back Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath That the rude sea grew civil at her song, And certain stars shot madly from their spheres To hear the sea-maid's music. MND.II.1.148-54. The idea of madness and things being shot out of their true orbit is repeated in this sonnet. fitted = thrown into a fit or paroxysm.
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Fabrizio Frosini 26 February 2016
8. In the distraction of this madding fever! The medical imagery continues. The poet compares himself to one who is afflicted by the frenzied motions and ravings of a person afflicted by fever. distraction = frenzy, madness, delusion. 9. O benefit of ill! now I find true benefit of ill - in the fury of his madding fever all contradictions seem possible. Evil becomes good and good becomes evil, as in Macbeth's violent imaginings of good and evil: My thought............ Shakes so my single state of man that function Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is But what is not. MAC.I.3.138-41. benefit - probably there is a glance here at the Latin root of the word, bene fit meaning 'it becomes well'. The exclamation and the declaration of discovery, rather like the 'Eureka! ' of Archimedes, possibly is an echo of the expected declarations of the alchemists - 'I have found the philosopher's stone! ' 10. That better is by evil still made better; better... better = that which is already better (than its counterpart) is made even better. The first use of the word is as a noun, the second adverbial. There is probably a pun intended on the word bitter. still = always; even. 11. And ruined love, when it is built anew, ruined love = love which has ceased and is no more, like a ruined building. 12. Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater. fairer = more true, more beautiful, more intense. more strong, far greater - the heaping up of comparatives and the construction of the line give the impression of climbing a great flight of stairs, from which one emerges at the top to discover a vista that is far fairer and more beautiful than it ever was before. 13. So I return rebuked to my content, So I return - i.e. from my travels, from my philandering, as in Sonnet 109: That is my home of love: if I have ranged, Like him that travels I return again, Just to the time, not with the time exchanged 109. rebuked = chastened by my experiences, chastised (by you, and by what has happened to me) . my content = that which contents me; my home of love. 14. And gain by ill thrice more than I have spent. by ill = by evil doing, by having suffered madness and fever. thrice more = three times more. The suggestion of ill gotten gains trebling one's outlay is perhaps a reference to the ideal of the alchemist, who hopes to increase his wealth by turning base metals to gold, thereby justifying all the expenditure on his distilleries and chemical apparatus. In fairness to the alchemist, however, it is worth noting that he emphasised strictly that only the pure of heart could achieve the transformation of substances into gold, and that any base motives would automatically negate the process. content, spent - as in other sonnets, notably 1,129 and 151, these words are surcharged with sexual innuendo.
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Fabrizio Frosini 06 January 2016
The poet continues his defence of past conduct. In looking back he perceives himself to have been suffering from a serious infatuation, which like a disease and maddening fever forced him to pursue an unattainable goal, as the alchemist pursues an unattainable dream of converting all base matter to gold.
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Brian Jani 26 April 2014
Awesome I like this poem, check mine out
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* Sunprincess * 08 January 2014
.......very nice lines...love this writing style.. ~Applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, Still losing when I saw myself to win! ~
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