Shakespeare’s Sonnet #44: “If the dull substance of my flesh were thought”

 

For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.

Reading of Sonnet 44

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The images in the YouTube video are from an original 1609 edition of Shake-speares Sonnets held by the British Library.  It is one of only thirteen copies in existence.  Images courtesy of the Octavo Corporation.  

Modernized Spelling and Punctuation

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way,
For then, despite of space, I would be brought
From limits far remote where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee,
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah, thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that, so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend time’s leisure with my moan;
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either’s woe.

Simplified Modern English Translation

If the heavy substance of my flesh were made of thought,
the painful long-distance separation between us could not block my way,
for then, despite the distance, I would transport myself
from regions far away to wherever you are.
It would not matter, then, if I resided
in a remote location far, far away from you,
for swift thought can jump over both sea and land
as quick as think about the place where it would be.
But ah, reflection kills me that I am not thought,
to leap large lengths of miles when you are gone,
but that, composed so much of earth and water,
I must wait on the slow passage of time with sadness.
The wet and heavy elements – earth and water – provide nothing for me
but heavy tears, woeful symbols of each.

Text from Original 1609 Quarto

Transcription courtesy of University of Virginia Library:

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Iniurious distance should not stop my way,
For then dispight of space I would be brought,
From limits farre remote, where thou doost stay,
No matter then although my foote did stand
Vpon the farthest earth remoou’d from thee,
For nimble thought can iumpe both sea and land,
As soone as thinke the place where he would be.
But ah, thought kills me that I am not thought
To leape large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend, times leasure with my mone.
Receiuing naughts¹ by elements so sloe,
But heauie teares, badges of eithers woe.

 

Wording differences between the text and the reading are noted with a superscript:

¹ nought

 



 Posted by at 10:27 am

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