‘Sonnet 52,’ also known as ‘So am I as the rich whose blessèd key,’ is number fifty-two of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the prolonged Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which last from number one all the way through one hundred twenty-six.
These are all about and directed to a young, beautiful man about whom the speaker cares deeply. In this poem, Shakespeare explores themes of distance, worth, beauty, and dedication.
The speaker makes several other comparisons in this sonnet as well. He says that the youth is also like a feast day and the jewels in a crown. There is space between each so that those experiencing them do not get numbed to their importance and beauty. In the same way, time acts as the separator between the youth and the speaker.
‘Sonnet 52’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line, single stanza poem that is structured in the form that has become synonymous with the poet’s name. The English or Shakespearean sonnet is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter.
Iambic pentameter 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 poems by Shakespeare, 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.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 52’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, simile, and metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does 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. In this case, the speaker uses a metaphor to compare his beloved, the Fair Youth, to treasure that he only looks at on a rare occasion.
A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. There is good example in the second quatrain where the speaker says that the “feasts” are “Like stones of worth”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “blessèd” and “bring” in lines one and two and “wardrobe which” in the third quatrain.
So am I as the rich whose blessèd key
Can bring him to his sweet up-lockèd treasure,
The which he will not every hour survey,
For blunting the fine point of seldom pleasure.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 52’ the speaker begins by stating that he is a rich man. This is all because he has the key to a special kind of treasure. For those familiar with the Fair Youth sonnet this image is not a new one. In previous sonnets, Shakespeare, or at least the speaker he is channeling, compared the Fair Youth to jewels and gold that are beyond worth.
The treasure is so special to him that he doesn’t want to get too familiar with it. In order to maintain some distance, and keep the beauty of the treasure at its peak in his mind, he only looks at it on rare occasions. He keeps it locked up and eco not “survey it “every hour” as some other men might. The pleasure is greater if it is seldom engaged in.
Therefore are feasts so solemn and so rare,
Since seldom coming in the long year set,
Like stones of worth they thinly placèd are,
Or captain jewels in the carcanet.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 52,’ the speaker goes on to create a metaphor that compares the treasure and his habits around it to a feast. He says that the same thing applies to holidays and the feasts that people have. If they were more frequently they wouldn’t be special. They’re spaced out throughout the year. He then uses a simile to compare that spacing to the spacing of jewels in a crown.
So is the time that keeps you as my chest,
Or as the wardrobe which the robe doth hide,
To make some special instant special blest
By new unfolding his imprisoned pride.
Blessèd are you whose worthiness gives scope,
Being had, to triumph; being lacked, to hope.
So, he concludes in the third and final quatrain, the time that separates the youth from the speaker acts as a “chest”. It is the thing between the speaker and the youth, the separation, and the distance. This connects back to sonnets 50 and 51 in which the speaker was complaining about the space between himself and his beloved. There is another simile in these lines that compares the time that is every once in awhile overcome to the opening of a closet. There, one sees a beautiful robe.
In the final two lines of ‘Sonnet 52,’ the speaker makes it clear that he has been talking about the youth the whole time, in case it was at all unclear. He says the youth is blessed with great worth. So much so that those who are with “you” feel as if they’ve won something. On the other side of this is those who are without “you,” they are without hope.