Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
Constancy
By William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
 
O NEVER 1 say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seem’d my flame to qualify! 2
As easy might I from myself depart,
As from my soul, which in thy breast doth lie: 3
That is the home of love; if I have ranged,        5
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged, 4
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reign’d
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,        10
That it could so prepost’rously be stain’d, 5
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good:
  For nothing this wide universe I call,
  Save thou, my Rose; 6 in it thou art my all.
 
Note 1. Sonnet cix. in Shake-speare’s Sonnettes, 1609. The first ardour of love is now renewed as in the days of early friendship (see Sonnet cviii., lines 13–14). But what of the interval of absence and estrangement? Shakespeare confesses his wanderings, yet declares that he was never wholly false. (Dowden.) [back]
Note 2. To qualify: to temper, moderate. Cf. Troilus and Cressida, act ii. sc. 2:
                  or is your blood
So madly hot, that no discourse of reason,
Nor fear of bad success in a bad cause,
Can qualify the same.
Note 3. My soul which in thy breast doth lie: Cf. King Richard III., act i. sc. 1: “Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart.” [back]
Note 4. Just to the time, not with the time exchanged: punctual to the time, not altered with the time. So Jessica in her boy’s disguise, Merchant of Venice, act iii. sc. 6:
  I am glad ’tis night, you do not look on me,
For I am much ashamed of my exchange.
(Dowden.)    
Note 5. Stain’d: Staunton proposes strain’d. [back]
Note 6. My Rose: Shakespeare returns to the loving name which he has given his friend in Sonnet i.: “That thereby beauty’s Rose might never die.” [back]
 
 
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