Sonnet 26

Shakespeare. Sonnet 1

«Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit».

Sonnet 26 prepares for the young man’s absence from the poet, although the reason for this separation is not clear. The sonnet’s first two lines, “Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage / Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,” show the poet’s submission to his love, using imagery associated with loyalty and duty to a king. He refers to the sonnet, which represents his duty to the youth who is his king, as “this written ambassage.”

Sonnet 26
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Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written embassage,
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 tatter’d 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 mayst prove me.

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In lines 5 through 12, the poet again questions the worth of his poetry, fearful that what he writes about the young man will not be well received. But now he is more worried that the youth himself will reject his poetic advances, whereas before he had consoled himself about his poetic obscurity by recalling the youth’s love.

Ironically, the poet’s greatest fear, that the youth will reject him, appears to be true, for in the concluding couplet, he concedes that a rift now divides them, and he dares not show his head until the rift is repaired. What is not apparent is what caused this separation. Line 12 — “To show me worthy of thy sweet respect” — hints that either the youth has rejected the poet’s verses and thus the poet also, or else the poet has removed himself from the relationship until he can rejuvenate his verses to better please the youth. However, the next sonnet sequence (Sonnets 27–32) makes painfully obvious the poet’s having left the youth, not the youth’s purposefully distancing himself from the poet.

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