“Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

This poem is one of the “fair youth” sonnets. It essentially contrasts the emotional states associated with focusing on the past as opposed to the present.

The beginning of the sonnet is filled with the alliterative “s” sound, emulating the sound of a sigh, which is actually mentioned in the third line. The speaker is lost in thought about the past, obsessed with wasted time, failed endeavors, and lost loves. There is also a sense of mortality, as the person remembers the deaths of his friends and presumably contemplates his own. The focus on the past becomes so intense, that he is actually renewing and reliving his pain and loss. This is something I feel we have all experienced, at least I know for sure that I have. In my quiet times, it is easy for me to replay old tapes of the past and imagine what might have been, to mourn missed opportunities and lost friendships. This is exactly the feeling that Shakespeare is conveying in this poem.

But the last couplet provides a stark contrast to the prevailing mood of the sonnet. Here his focus shifts from the past to his current relationship with the fair youth, and you get the sense that the speaker is immediately able to let go of the past and appreciate what is truly important: the connection with people here and now.

We have a very limited time in our lives, and to waste that precious time obsessing about the past is a tragedy. To quote Ram Dass, we need to “Be Here Now.” We cannot change the past, and the future is uncertain. All we have is this moment. Take advantage of it and enjoy your connection with your friends and loved ones.

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6 Comments

Filed under Literature

6 responses to ““Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” by William Shakespeare

  1. Isn’t it wonderful that every moment in life can be a rebirth, no matter from what darkness? I like this sonnet – how it shows that.

    • Hi Monika! So glad you enjoyed the sonnet as much as I did. It really puts things into perspective. And you are so right — a rebirth can happen at any moment. Blessings, and have a wonderful rest of your weekend!

  2. So beautiful, Jeff. Thank you for sharing it along with your reflection. Quite a few old stories/myths feature this warning about too much looking back. It’s always a good reminder (and it’s easy to do!).

    • Hi Jamie. That is so true. The first one that jumps to mind is the wife of Lot, who was turned to a pillar of salt because she looked back at the destruction. Wondering if the pillar of salt represents the abundance of tears associated with deep regret. Stuff to consider. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Cheers!

  3. I’m actively working towards these goals right now and your post is a wonderful, serendipitous reminder of the things that are important, the here and now. Thanks!

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