Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought, William Shakespeare – an Analysis


Spot of daydreaming there, Mr Shakespeare, sir?

Gut Reaction
Isn’t this the point where I’m supposed to be curtseying and paying homage to The Master? Or have I been watching too much Dr Who? I feel a little… disdainful. Lines and lines of pining and regret and sorrow and then finished off with two lines saying ‘it’s all okay, because I have you’. Hmm. Exploration is needed.

What does it all mean?
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:

When I find myself adrift and daydreaming, the things I find myself remembering just remind me that there are so many things I’ve strived for but never gained or achieved; each is just a reminder of how much I’m wasting/have wasted my life. The memories are both sweet and bittersweet.
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
…not usually one for crying, Mr Shakespeare, sir?
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
Missing friends who have died…
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
Crying over lost loves…
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Despairing of things he’ll never see again…
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
What now? Normally I would think, perhaps here we’re saying we feel bad about arguments and disagreements we’ve had in the past, but the way this line reads it feels like it could mean that the author is missing the arguments themselves. Which doesn’t sound right, unless, you know, he enjoyed the arguments (or who he was arguing with)? Maybe he just really liked debating?
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.

Okay, Mr Shakespeare, getting a little glum here, this is resembling what we like to call a downward spiral (especially if Nine Inch Nails are playing in the background. Digressing slightly). What we’re seeing here is the typical spiralling of bad thoughts that are very had to fight back from once they set off on their rollercoaster. It feels like now he’s really thinking about past arguments and all the negative things that have happened in his life. It feels like he should be doing this over a dusty bar somewhere to the sympathetic ear of a well-practiced bartender.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

Now I take issue with that. You can’t ‘restore’ losses like death, now can you? Nothing makes that okay. If you’re that glum about all things, how can one ‘friend’ take that all away? How can losing so many people, reliving all you’ve lost, rehashing arguments all be swept away with one simple thought of this friend? Must be a pretty special friend if you ask me – even my very favourite people in the world can’t really pull me out of The Black Mood. But that’s maybe just me.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
Sonnet! It’s a sonnet! Woo! That’s an easy one 🙂
There’s a lot of iambic pentameter and a lot that’s…not.

Well it’s a bit bleak for most of the poem, isn’t it? It’s only when we get to the last lines that it brightens up like a sunflower tilting towards the sun.

Suggested rhyme scheme
Brackets show visual rather than ‘true’ end rhyme but I guess that’s a point that could be contested. Hey, I don’t know what accent you have…
There is a fair amount of alliteration throughout and mostly end-stopped lines, enjambment appearing for lines one and ten.

Similes and metaphors
‘Sessions of sweet silent thought’ – daydreams, reminiscence, plain old thinking?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Well clearly he’s very…fond…of his subject given that this person can bring back to life all those he has lost and forget all the bad things that have happened… maybe this person has lost the same people two and in grieving together these people are brought back to life in memories?

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
As well as this one complete piece, this poem often appears as three separate quatrains and a couplet, and the third quatrain is said not to be giving much more information, just compacting on the woes of the previous two. Fair point.
Much is debated on the subject of the ‘dear friend’, thought to be a ‘fair young man’, and often assumed to be the Earl of Southampton. Many have suggested that this is much more than a platonic relationship, and me, being the shipper I am, am inclined to agree.
There is also general agreement that there is legal ‘imagery’ in the poem, with ‘sessions’ in line one thought to refer to an appearance in court. It is a theme often returned to in Shakespeare’s work.

Signing off
How do I feel about this poem? Hmm. Well. It’s a love confession, isn’t it? ‘Whenever I’m sad and blue, I only have to think of you and the sun comes out again’-kind of sappiness, isn’t it? Beyond that, what do we have other than a person rehashing all they figure is missing from their lives or that they regret having/not having/doing/not doing? If I were to write something like this for one of my friends, I’d get The Eyebrow (they all have different eyebrows it’s not a collective Eyebrow, but you get my point). There’s a whole other way to be soppy with your friends… this poem is about loving someone so much that they can literally chase away your black clouds. It’s a very, very rare thing to have. So the shipper side of me squees and leaps up and down and gets excited, whilst the cynical side sighs, rolls hers, and wishes she had whiskey on tap.


Poetry Foundation


Wikipedia – Sonnet 30

Shakespeare Online

When I read this I think of the song…Now this… THIS is the way to write sappily about someone you love. Thank you, Justin Furstenfeld 🙂


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