‘Sonnet 58’ also known as ‘That god forbid, that made me first your slave,’ is number fifty-eight of one hundred fifty-four sonnets that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the very famous and complex Fair Youth sequence of sonnets, which last from number one all the way through one hundred twenty-six. These sonnets are devoted to a young, beautiful man whose identity remains unknown to this day. This particular poem is quite similar to the one which came before it, ‘Sonnet 57’. It picks up on the same themes of obsession, devotion, and longing.
In the first part of the poem, the speaker asserts his desire to remain unchanged in his status. He does not want to ever stop being the youth’s slave. He’s willing to wait around until the youth wants to spend time with him and hopes that he never is so weak as to blame the youth for following his desires. The speaker tells him that he is able, and should, follow his pleasure where it takes him and that he’ll be waiting when the youth returns to his side.
‘Sonnet 58’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within one stanza, in the form that has become synonymous with the poet’s name. The English or Shakespearean sonnet (sometimes also known as the Elizabethan) 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 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.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 58’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and allusion. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “Being” and “bound” in line four and “wait,” “waiting,” and “well” in lines thirteen and fourteen.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.
An allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. IN this case, there are numerous themes and images that connect this poem back to others in the series. Most directly to ‘Sonnet 57’ but the themes of obsession and dedication can be found in tens of sonnets up until this point. There is also an interesting contrast, as exists between many of the sonnets and themes, between this sonnet and its clear devotion and others in which the poet chastizes the youth for his wandering eye.
That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand th’ account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 58,’ the speaker begins by picking up where he left off in ‘Sonnet 57’. He continues to speak of himself as a slave to the Fair Youth and his whims. The speaker says that whatever God put him in this potion to be “your slave” allows him to be free of thoughts of ever taking back control. The speaker enjoys his piston and does not want to even be allowed to think about having any control over where the youth goes or when he chooses to see the speaker. The youth’s “times of pleasure” are his own and the speaker does not want to mess with the balance.
O let me suffer, being at your beck,
Th’ imprisoned absence of your liberty;
And patience tame to sufferance bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
In the next four lines of ‘Sonnet 58,’ the speaker says that he wants to suffer at the hands of the youth. He will wait patiently during the youth’s absence as the youth would want. He’ll be there whenever the young man is ready to come back to him. The speaker asks that he have the strength and ability to endure these periods of waiting without feeling spiteful or angry at the youth for keeping him there waiting.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well.
In the third and final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 58,’ the speaker says that the youth can go wherever he wants. He can “Be where you list”. It is his privilege or charter, to do what he will when he wants. The youth’s power over his own life is so strong that he can pardon himself of any crime he might commit.
The final couplet adds that the speaker is going to wait, even when it’s painful, for the youth to come back. It might be “hell” but he won’t blame the youth for following his desire and pleasure. It is his right, whether it’s painful to the speaker or not.