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Thyself doth pay.” Thought has been put in form, but without any power of beauty or truth on the part of the writer, and is of no more value than it was before it was transposed from the crude material. This is as much as to say, that if he had used the same material he would have produced a much better play.
Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
In this stanza he informs us that he (Bacon) is studiously pursuing his philosophical inquiries. “O, how I [Bacon as dramatist] faint when I of You do write, knowing a better spirit [Bacon as philosopher] doth use Your name” (the contrast here suggested is between Beauty (You) in poetry and Beauty in philosophy, the one, everything externally attractive, and the other full of power internally, and much superior in strength and selfassertion). "And in the praise thereof spends all
his might” (all his power of research, logic, invention, and illustration are employed to demonstrate truth and beauty in philosophy). “To make Me [dramatist] tongue-tied, speaking of Your fame” (those labors will show wherein the plays are deficient in demonstrating and enforcing truth into the practice of mankind). But since “Your worth” (your truth) is an ocean upon which vessels of every size and cost may sail, "My saucy bark” (his poetry and plays) will not be deprived of this right. “Your shallowest help will hold Me [dramatist] up afloat" (his dramas need no deep philosophical investigation of beauty for their ornamentation). “Whilst he [philosopher] upon Your soundless deep doth ride” (his philosophy, on the contrary, will be of the most profound nature). If his dramas should fail, it would be comparatively unimportant, as his philosophy is more exhaustive, built up higher in argument, and will go before the world in "goodly pride” (with the name of Francis Bacon as author, which from his position will give it character). “The worst ” of it is, that if the philosophy succeeds and the dramas fail, it will be because “My Love was My decay" (because he had over-estimated his powers of delineation).
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
You still shall live — such virtue hath my pen —
In this stanza he assures himself that if his dramas outlive him they will live forever. “Or shall I live Your epitaph to make.” This seems to be a closing up of the latter part of the line in the preceding stanza, and means simply as opposed to that (or he will outlive his dramas). “Or You survive when I in earth am rotten" (or though he should die, their beauty will preserve them, so that they will live when he is forgotten). Beauty will be immortal in them, though he be dead “to all the world." His remains will fill a common grave, but the beauty of his dramas will be seen by all people. This poem shall give their history, and shall be read by the men of future ages, and they shall write and talk about your beauty when the present generation has ceased to exist. He had written so truly, and illustrated life so perfectly, that he should be best known and appreciated where the greatest numbers dwell. This is but one of several prophecies in this poem foretelling its unending life, which has been in the course of a continuous fulfilment ever since it was written.
And their gross painting might be better us'd
In this stanza, in the form of an apology to Thou (Truth) for neglecting to write a dedication in the style and fashion of the times, he furnishes a key which unfolds the true meaning of the dedicatory words prefixed to this poem. Thou (Truth), being as accessible to all as to him, could very properly overlook the want of a dedication. The worth of his thoughts surpassed any effort he might make to praise Thy, and he must look for his eulogy in the works of more recent writers. But he would find after the search, notwithstanding their strained efforts, that Thou's (Truth's) merits had been fully appreciated and set forth “in true plain words by Thy [Thought's] true-telling friend.” The "gross painting” of other writers could be much better applied to subjects that stood in need of praise. It was only belittling Thee (Thought) to squander it on him.
Those “true plain words” have puzzled the heads of more writers during the past three centuries than any equal number of “true plain words” in the English language. It cannot be deemed presumptuous in me to attempt an interpretation which has foiled so many, for if I fail too, I shall die in the best of company. The lines just quoted tell that the poems are dedicated to Thou, or that Thou is the one “sympathiz'd” by the dedication. That furnishes the key to its exposition. Mr. W. H., the person seemingly addressed, fills a subordinate place. This is the language as it was written originally:
TO. THE · ONLIE · BEGETTER · OF .
“MR. W. H. WISHETH THAT ETERNITY PROMISED BY OUR EVER-LIVING POET, TO THE ONLY BEGETTER OF THESE ENSUING SONNETS, AND ALL HAPPINESS TO THE WELL-WISHING ADVENTURER IN FORTH T. T. (THE TRUTII).”