When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

When in these sessions of gratifying silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I think of the past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

I lament my failure to achieve all that I wanted,

And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

And I sorrowfully remember that I wasted the best years of my life:

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,

Then I can cry, although I am not used to crying,

For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,

For dear friends now hid in death's unending night,

And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,

And cry again over woes that were long since healed,

And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:

And lament the loss of many things that I have seen and loved:

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

Then can I grieve over past griefs again,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er

And sadly repeat (to myself) my woes

The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,

The sorrowful account of griefs already grieved for,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

Which (the account) I repay as if I had not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

But if I think of you while I am in this state of sadness, dear friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.

All my losses are compensated for and my sorrow ends.




[Line 1]* 'sessions' - the sitting of a court. The court imagery is continued with 'summon up' in line 2. The court motif is used several times by Shakespeare - note Othello 3.3.140: "Keep leets and law days, and in session sit/With mediations lawful?" (Leets = court sessions).

[Line 4]* By replaying his 'old woes' over in his mind, the poet is wasting precious time that could be spent thinking more joyous thoughts. Hence 'my dear time's waste'.

[Line 7]* "love's long since cancell'd woe" is the sorrow the poet had once felt over the loss of his close friends; loss that has dulled over the years but now returns as he thinks of the past.

[Line 8]* Some scholars interpret this line to mean 'I lament the cost to me of many a lost sigh'. "'Sight' for 'sigh' was archaic by Shakespeare's time and seems only to have been used for the sake of rhyme (see OED). Sighing was considered deleterious to health; compare 2 Henry VI 3.2.61-3: 'blood-consuming sighs . . ./Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs', and 47.4." (Blakemore Evans, 142). However, the ordinary word 'sight' also makes sense in this context; that is, the poet has lost many things that he has seen and loved.

[Line 13]* Shakespeare's first use of the term 'dear friend' in the Sonnets.

[Line 14]* His friend is as great as the sum of all the many things the poet sought but did not find.

Sonnet 30 is a tribute to the poet's friend -- and likely his lover -- whom many believe to be the Earl of Southampton. Sonnet 29 proclaims that the young man is the poet's redeemer and this theme continues in the above sonnet. The poet's sorrowful recollections of dead friends are sparked by the lover's absence and can be quelled only by thoughts of his lover, illustrating the poet's dependence on his dear friend for spiritual and emotional support. Notice Shakespeare's use of partial alliteration over several lines to enhance the texture and rhythm of the sonnet. Others could be cited, but here is one example:

When to | the Sess | ions of | sweet si | lent thought
I summ | on up | remem | brance of | things past...



Back to Sonnets 21-30