Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O! know sweet love I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
This sonnet reverts to the theme of No. 38, that the beloved is the only fit argument and substance of the poet's verse, and that his love for the youth invests all that he does with undying beauty. 105 and 108 also deal with the sameness and unchanging nature of love. But this one is mainly introductory to the rival poet(s) sequence (78-80 & 82-6) which follows almost immediately. In fact the sequence runs continuously from this sonnet right through to 86 if we exclude 77 and 81, which are special numbers. 77 is a climacteric, a crucial number in any human life, according to Elizabethan thought. 81 is also fraught with potential danger, being exactly 9 times 9, and deemed by some to be a grand climacteric, alongside 63 (7 x 9) . The three sonnets, 63, 77 and 81 all deal with the ending of life and love, either for the poet, or the beloved, or both of them. They therefore stand outside any embedded sequence in the sonnets, with the result that 76 may be taken as the start of a sequence running right through to 86, all dealing with the threat posed by a rival poet or poets.
It remains uncertain why the sequence should start here. KDJ points out that 38 is exactly half of 76, and 38 is a sonnet linked thematically with this one. There are at least three key words shared by the two sonnets, argument, invention and verse, and the content and placing of the two cannot be accidental. But there is no explanation available for the significance of the number 38. Shakespeare was 38 in 1602, and there may be some relevance in that fact, especially as age, decay, baldness, loss of beauty, decrepitude and death feature so much in the sonnets. It remains an open question when the sonnets were written, or what span of time they cover, either in their composition or in living experience. Certainly it would be fascinating if we could solve that puzzle, but no information that we have at present is likely to be sufficient to resolve the questions for us.
The 1609 Quarto Version
WHy is my verſe ſo barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quicke change?
Why with the time do I not glance aſide
To new found methods,and to compounds ſtrange?
Why write I ſtill all one,euer the fame,
And keepe inuention in a noted weed,
That euery word doth almoſt fel my name,
Shewing their birth,and where they did proceed?
O know ſweet loue I alwaies write of you,
And you and loue are ſtill my argument:
So all my beſt is dreſſing old words new,
Spending againe what is already ſpent:
For as the Sun is daily new and old,
So is my loue ſtill telling what is told,