Being your slave what
should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.
This recalls the theme of Sonn.26,
Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
but here the servitude has become more bitter and oppressive. The subjugation of self which love of the youth has demanded is painted in terms which leave no doubt of the pain inflicted. Words of injurious and base humility and bitter pain are frequent - slave, tend, services, world-without-end, bitterness, absence, sour, servant, jealous, sad, slave, fool, ill. All these combine to counteract the overt message of devotion, and one is left with a deadly realisation that the youth is not what love has made him out to be, but a harsh despot who abuses his power, or at least that is how the poet, in his worst moments sees him.
The sonnet could well be written in response to some direct criticism, such as 'Why are you so demanding? Why do you question everything that I do?' Both this and the following sonnet provide the poet's explanation and excuse.
Because of the repeated ironies, fears and self repression, or perhaps despite them, there is an uncanny sense of beauty and pathos which hovers about the poem. Like several others which portray humility and subservience we read into it a meaning which is totally opposed to its ostensible declarations. For all the protestations of not resenting the beloved youth's treatment of him, one realises that there is a festering sore which cannot heal and that the declared slave is standing on the brink of open rebellion. Yet the willing unwillingness of his love makes one marvel at the truth of its depiction and at the tortured psychology which forces lovers into the anguish of such impossible situations.
The 1609 Quarto Version
BEing your ſlaue what ſhould I doe but tend,
Vpon the houres,and times of your deſire?
I haue no precious time at al to ſpend;
Nor ſeruices to doe til you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end houre,
Whilſt I(my ſoueraine)watch the clock for you,
Nor thinke the bitterneſſe of abſence ſowre,
VVhen you haue bid your ſeruant once adieue.
Nor dare I question with my iealious thought,
VVhere you may be,or your affaires ſuppoſe,
But like a ſad ſlaue ſtay and thinke of nought
Saue where you are , how happy you make thoſe.
So true a fool is loue,that in your Will,
(Though you doe any thing)he thinkes no ill.