‘Sonnet 33,’ also known as ‘Full many a glorious morning have I seen’ is sonnet number thirty-three of one hundred fifty-four that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence of sonnets (numbers one through one hundred twenty-six). This sonnet is the first of a short sequence that is generally referred to as the estrangement sonnets. They last from ‘Sonnet 33’ to 36. They are all concerned with the speaker responding to something the Fair Youth did. It is a “sensual fault,” as ‘Sonnet 35′ suggests.
The speaker discusses the beauty of the sun in the first lines of ‘Sonnet 32’. Then, the clouds come into the image and obscure it. This is exactly what happened to him with the Fair Youth. The youth is the speaker’s personal sun, he is a golden man, a sun of the world. Then, something happened and the youth moved out of his possession, hidden behind the clouds. This alludes to a betrayal of some sort that is not elucidated.
‘Sonnet 33’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the form known as a “Shakespearean” or English sonnet. The poem is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this particular poem, the turn brings with it an acceptance of the betrayal that’s at the heart of the poem.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 33’. These include but are not limited to metaphor, imagery, and alliteration. The first of these, a metaphor, is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. Sonnet 33’ is the first in the Fair Youth sonnets to use a metaphor to compare the youth to the sun. The sun is a complicated metaphor in these lines as it is not always as all-seeing, powerful, and beautiful as one might think.
Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but the imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. The images in this sonnet are crucial. If the reader cannot picture the sun over the grasslands or see it being obscured by the clouds then the metaphor falls flat.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “golden” and “green” inline three and “from” and “fórlorn” in line seven.
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy,
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 33,’ the speaker begins by using imagery to create a beautiful natural scene. He addresses the Fair Youth telling him that he has seen “many a glorious morning”. The “sun” rises up over the mountain tops and kisses the green meadows, turning them golden in the light. It has the ability to completely transform the landscape. This is emphasized y the fourth line which alludes to the powers of alchemy to transform one thing into another. Everything is alive, gilded in gold as if by magic.
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the fórlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 33,’ the speaker says that all of a sudden the darkest, “basest clouds” rise up with “ugly rack” on the sun’s “celestial face”. This is a complex metaphor, one that relates back to the betrayal that’s at the heart of the poem. The clouds cover the sun’s face as a symbol of that betrayal, they darken the light that the Fair Youth puts out.
The “visage,” or face, of the sun is hidden from the “fólorn world”. The sun is hidden and is then able to sneak off to the west in disgrace.
Ev’n so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out alack, he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath masked him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth.
Suns of the world may stain when heav‘n’s sun staineth.
Shakespeare emphasizes the imagery used in the first eight lines of ‘Sonnet 33’ in the concluding six. There is a volta between the two sections, with the poet transitioning into speaking clearly about his love, the Fair Youth. He knows that this sneaky behavior on the part of the use is exactly the same a how his sun, the youth, shone on his face, or “brow”. The clouds quickly obscured the sun.
The sun, the youth, was only briefly in the speaker’s possession. The clouds came and masked him. Despite the betrayal, whatever it may be, the speaker does not fault the youth for it. It is possible for “Suns of the world,” men who are golden like the sun, to disgrace themselves just as easily as the sun does when clouds pass before it.