Shakespeare's Sonnet 52

The Art

“Sonnet 52”  by William Shakespeare
Published in 1609, by Thomas Thorpe, London

1609 Quatro version of Sonnet 52

1609 Quatro version of Sonnet 52

So am I as the rich whose blessed key,
Can bring him to his sweet up-locked treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.

Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since seldom coming in the long year set,    

Like stones of worth they thinly placed are,
Or captain Jewels in the carcanet.

So is the time that keeps you as my chest,

Or as the ward-robe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special blest,
By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.

Blessed are you whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had to triumph, being lacked to hope.


The Music

“Sonnet 52 – the carcanet’s jewels”  (4.00 mins) 
Text, William Shakespeare
Music, Helen Davey
(for voice, recorders and frame drum and a would-be lute thanks to a-la-midi)


William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare


I have worked with Shakespeare before – when I adapted his “Midsummer- night’s Dream” for a musical production featuring  Austraian Aboriginal Bush Spirits… It was magical to work with him then and it has been again this time. What a mind! On the occasion of his 450th birthday this week, I salute you sire and wish you many happy returns. Forthooth!

The book of Sonnets was apparently published without Shakespeare’s consent. It has many mysteries associated with the content – and depending on whom you read there is much speculation as to whom the book of sonnets was dedicated amongst other treasure chests with missing keys…

Sonnet 52 is one of the “Fair Youth” sequence (rather than the “Rival Poet” and the “Dark Lady”) , in which the poet expresses his love towards a young man. “It is indeed a somewhat mysterious sonnet, which I feel has a secret locked away deep in its bosom, and no one has yet plumbed its depths or been able to suggest wherein its mystery lies” (this quote  – although nameless – comes from the webmaster of a lovingly crafted website of Shakespearean sonnets  – there’s great reading about some of the mysteries and speculation. here).

"garklein" recorder

“garklein” recorder

As a songwriter, I’m particularly interested that the structure of the sonnets is very specific: 14 lines – 3 quatrains and a couplet – with the following rhyming patterns, ABAB – DDCD – EFEF – GG.

To write 154 sonnets with the degree of the bard’s eloquence is one thing…(!) but get this: there are 10 syllables per line which is in Iambic pentameter. That means, there are x5 pairs of short/long syllables per line which is what creates the iconic rhythm of the sonnet. (It’s also what had me twisting in knots to accommodate these syllables melodically). If you’re a bit geeky like me regarding meter and rhythm in words, there’s a good explanation of Iambic pentameter here

I wanted to get close to the sounds  of Shakespeare’s era – albeit with just a few instruments that are pretty close to how he must have heard the instruments of his day. Plus, I just LERVVVV  recorders in consort and have a new frame drum so was pleased to combine these instruments for this week’s sound-painting. The “garklein” recorder is the tiniest little poppet to play (one needs nimble fingers). You’ll hear it sailing atop the arrangement.

I appreciate all of your comments and emails. Thank you for hanging out with me and sharing my project with people you know.

Blessed are you…

8 comments to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 52

  • Jenny Hetherington

    I love this! Blessed Bard and you, merry music maker, with your flutes and tabor and lute, even if not quite!

    • Oh Jenny yippee!
      My new frame drum featured here alongside my smallest, (sweet as pie) recorder. Would LERVVVV to be able to boast a lute, but naye, it’s a plastic keyboard, hooked into a DAW (digital audio workstation) via a mysterious cable dubbed MIDI, who translated the notes I played into an acoustic guitar…so 2 out of 3 ain’t bad…

  • Nice article in the New Yorker Magazine this week about two book dealers in NYC who believe they have found the Bard’s own annotated dictionary. Nice portrait of him, too, one I have never seen:

    What a nice tribute, and a lovely piece. You caught the flavor of the period, certainly, and your little piccolo of a recorder definitely soars above. Thanks for the Elizabethan moment and the nod to Himself!

    • Bronle – what a wacky thing! Extraordinary that the dictionary has shown up somewhere somehow! Loved the portrait too. Thanks for passing on the article link. I feel like himself touches all who work with his art… so inspiring. Was considering harp but settled on recorders and “Shakespearean” guitar; The era is SO evocative – It was such a pleasure to bring the music from inside my head to the outside!
      I did consider wearing a hooped frock, puffy shoulder pads and a radically elaborate collar, but ditched the idea and turned my attention to the music instead; but there is something that tickles my humour just imagining the costume of the era. (think I’ve seen far too much Monty Python).

  • The great bard! You picked a sonnet that I don’t really know! I probably skipped over it because the last line is a tough one to scan! Ha. Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter is truly awe-inspiring, especially when you examine how it reveals the meaning of the text.
    I love the music – perfection!

    By the way, I sure would have loved to have a CD of your music to play at the reception for my art show at the Gallery on Friday night. I told people about our collaboration and they all “ahhhh”-ed and agreed how wonderful it would have been to have had your music in the room.

    • Jim the text has been one of those “curiouser & curiouser” things for me. The more I read about it (other’s interpretations) the more captivated I became; Felt like dropping everything for a week to study all 154 of the sonnets in some more depth! Thank you for your comments re my musical working of this sonnet.

      I had a few glitches with the CD of the first quarter of Project 52 – the March Equinox – volume I. I am working on it, but it’s taking longer than I expected.(grrrr). I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

  • karin

    Beautiful, enchanting – what a gifted musician and composer you are, my dear friend !!

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