‘Necessary Wrinkles’: Time and the Poet
I closed the last chapter with a depressingly sterile vision of the poet’s independence. At the end of Sonnet 121 the poet’s self-definition is directed not by a sense of his own worth, but in relation to a world where men are falsely valued. “Tis better to be vile than vile esteemed” is a deliberately perverse statement: the rest of the sonnet exposes its irony by relating it to a society in which those who do the esteeming are the ones with vile natures.1 But so much of the sonnet’s force is spent on the frailties of the society that the poet’s strength exists only in contrast — and a peculiarly hesitant contrast, at that. The gist of “I may be straight though they themselves be bevel” is that the world should not judge the poet by its own values, no matter how similar to theirs his actions might appear; which is, in part, an acknowledgement that the poet’s external behaviour is as typical of the society he contemns as he claims his internal vision is untypical.
KeywordsDust Bark Dial Abate Clarification
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