Sonnet 26: To witness duty, not to show my wit

Lena Levin. Sonnet 26. To witness duty, not to show my wit

Sonnet 26. To witness duty, not to show my wit. 20″x20″. Oil on linen.

William Shakespeare. Sonnet 26

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit:
To thee I send this written embassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit;

Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it;
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought (all naked) will bestow it:

Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tattered loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect;

Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then, not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

Edward Bennett reading this sonnet

In the visual vocabulary, a sonnet is a postcard. And this is as close as a sonnet gets to it: a brief and rather formal letter. In the developing story of my personal relationship with the sonnet sequence and with William Shakespeare, this sonnet is reinterpreted as a symbol of the whole project: my own attempt to _witness duty, not to show my wit_ to the author of the sequence. At the very least, this reinterpretation makes the originally not quite plausible conceit that the addressee has more wit than the speaker much more believable.

Hence the central image of the translation: a symbolic gesture of humble obedience from a figure standing on a book larger than herself.