Sonnet 30 | Breakdown of Shakespeare's Sonnets
sonnet 30

Sonnet 30

Written by on | Shakespeare

Now before we get into this I’d like to say, this being a sonnet breakdown we generally try and mine as much from the text as we can without going overboard. However, this sonnet, however beautiful it is, is actually fairly straight forward as far as Shakespeare goes. The premise is relatively simple, and one could argue is a solid case study in Shakespeare’s use of repetition throughout his work. In this sonnet the poet is essentially saying when I get down thinking of the bad things of my past, I think of you, and all my sorrows vanish. That’s really it. Who the poet is talking to we can’t be sure, it is in the fair youth phase of the sonnets so we could surmise that this is directed at the fair youth, but there is not really anything that explicably tells us that, instead we get ‘dear friend’ and that’s about all. With all that being said, let’s have a geez anyway and see what we can find.

Original Text

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.
Then can I drown an eye unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
  But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
  All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

Modern Translation

When to those moments of sweet and silent reflection
I think of the things in my the past
I sigh at the lack of the things I sought after
And I waste my time crying over these things again
Then my eyes which do not usually cry can be drowned with tears
For precious friends that are dead
And cry again for love that I’d long forgotten
And moan over things that are long gone
Then I can grieve again for things I’d stopped grieving
And sadly I can relive all of the things once more
And feel the sadness I felt before again
As if I hadn’t been pained enough already
But if I think of you dear friend while I do this
All my losses come back to me, and all of my sorrows end

Verse Breakdown

Bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
ABCDEFG = Rhyming Pattern

First Quatrain

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought A
I summon up remembrance of things past, B
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought, A
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste. B

Second Quatrain

Then can I drown an eye unused to flow, C
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night, D
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe, C
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight. D

Third Quatrain; The Turn

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone, E
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er F
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan, E
Which I new pay as if not paid before. F

Rhyming Couplet; The Answer

  But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, G
  All losses are restored, and sorrows end. G

Thought Breakdown & Analysis

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
When I’m quietly thinking.
This is the when part of the sonnet, the proposition. In many of Shakespeare’s sonnets we find a similar pattern of when X, X and X, I Y and this is about as good of an example as we get.

I summon up remembrance of things past,
I think of things in the past.
This is what happens when I’m quietly thinking.

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
I sigh at the lack of all the things I sought.
I sigh, I’m saddened thinking of all the things I wanted in the past, assuming I did not get them.

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.
And I waste my time crying over these things again.
So when I think of the past, all the things I lost, I sigh and waste my time crying over them all over again.

Then can I drown an eye unused to flow,
Then can I drown my eyes, which are usually unused, with tears.
Here’s the first ‘then’ of this sonnet, it comes at the start of the second quatrain, this is what will happen when I do this.

For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
For precious friends that are long dead.
This is something I will cry over.

And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And cry again for long lost lovers
Another thing that will make me cry.

And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
And I’ll moan at the price I’ve paid over things I’ve long lost
We’re really seeing the effects of the repetition coming through, this is another example of what we’ll cry over.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
Then I’ll grieve over things I’d stopped grieving over
We start the third quatrain with yet another ‘then’ and we’ll expand on it further below.

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
And sadly go over every sadness I’ve felt before again
We’re expanding again on what exactly is going to make us feel this way. Just how deeply this sadness is being felt when we’re going over the pains of the past.

The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
And feel the sadness I felt before all over again.
More expansion on the then, this is just how deep these cuts go when I sit in quiet thought and relive all the pains of my past.

Which I new pay as if not paid before.
Which I feel again just as if I hadn’t felt them before
All of the pain that this makes me feel is just as bad as it was the first time I felt it. It’s as though I never paid that price to begin with.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
But if I think of you while I think of these things, my dear friend.
BUT. Here we are at the penultimate ‘THEN’. This is the point I’ve been driving to throughout all of these lines. All of this has been to give context to these next two lines.

All losses are restored, and sorrows end.
All of my losses come back and are restored, and my sadness ends.
This is what happens when we calculate X+X+X = Y. It really all boils down to this. When I think of the past, all the things I’ve lost. Friends, opportunities, love, and life, I’m so saddened that I cry. BUT, if I think of you when I think of these things, that makes it all better.

 

Unfamiliar Language

Session, Sessions (n.)
judicial assembly, trial, court

Remembrance (n.)
memory, bringing to mind, recollection

Dateless (adj.)
old form: dateles
everlasting, eternal, endless

Cancelled (adj.)
old form: canceld
made null and void, invalidated

Expense (n.)
old form: expence
loss, using up, expending

Grievance (n.)
old form: greeuances
distress, suffering, pain

Foregone (adj.)
old form: fore-gon
previous, prior, earlier

Heavily (adv.)
old form: heauily
sorrowfully, sadly, gloomily

Moan (n.)
old form: mone
grief, lamentation, sorrow, complaint

Fore-bemoaned (adj.)
old form: fore-bemoned
previously lamented

Sad (adj.)
downcast, distressed, mournful, gloomy

 

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

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