Although Sonnet 102 is highly lyrical it is ostensibly about lyrical restraint. The poet must be careful not to write too much in praise of the beloved, since ‘sweets grown common lose their dear delight.’ But it’s the memory of their love when new that carries the reader through the central section, and here the expression of that love is compared to a nightingale.
Well Shakespeare knew the innate violence of such an image. In book four of Ovid’s Metamorphoses Philomel is raped by King Tereus who then cuts out her tongue to prevent her from telling anyone (Shakespeare’s Lavinia in Titus Andronicus suffers a similar fate at the hands of two princes). In Ovid, Philomel is later turned into a nightingale.
In Sonnet 102 Shakespeare powerfully evokes the nightingale as something synonymous with the poetic line itself, perhaps suggesting an imagined female voice as the speaker of this poem and one whose present lyricism seems to reclaim the Classical space inhabited by the traumatised Philomel. However violent the myth, the love is somehow enraptured by the nightingale’s mournful hymns, hushing the night.
Sonnet 102 is here read by Professor Carol Rutter of the University of Warwick.
My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming;
I love not less, though less the show appear;
That love is merchandized, whose rich esteeming,
The owner’s tongue doth publish every where.
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,
And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:
Not that the summer is less pleasant now
Than when her mournful hymns did hush the night,
But that wild music burthens every bough,
And sweets grown common lose their dear delight.
Therefore like her, I sometime hold my tongue:
Because I would not dull you with my song.
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