When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus'd to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.
|When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
|When in these sessions of gratifying silent thought
|I summon up remembrance of things past,
|I think of the past,
|I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
|I lament my failure to achieve all that I wanted,
|And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
|And I sorrowfully remember that I wasted the best years of my life:
|Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
|Then I can cry, although I am not used to crying,
|For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
|For dear friends now hid in death's unending night,
|And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
|And cry again over woes that were long since healed,
|And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
|And lament the loss of many things that I have seen and loved:
|Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
|Then can I grieve over past griefs again,
|And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
|And sadly repeat (to myself) my woes
|The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
|The sorrowful account of griefs already grieved for,
|Which I new pay as if not paid before.
|Which (the account) I repay as if I had not paid before.
|But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
|But if I think of you while I am in this state of sadness, dear friend,
|All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.
|All my losses are compensated for and my sorrow ends.
Notessessions (1): the sitting of a court. The court imagery is continued with 'summon up' in line 2. The court motif is used several times by Shakespeare - note Othello 3.3.140: "Keep leets and law days, and in session sit/With mediations lawful?" (Leets = court sessions).
old woes (4): By replaying his 'old woes' over in his mind, the poet is wasting precious time that could be spent thinking more joyous thoughts. Hence 'my dear time's waste.'
love's long since cancell'd woe (7): is the sorrow the poet had once felt over the loss of his close friends; loss that has dulled over the years but now returns as he thinks of the past.
And moan...sight (8): Some scholars interpret this line to mean 'I lament the cost to me of many a lost sigh.' "'Sight' for 'sigh' was archaic by Shakespeare's time and seems only to have been used for the sake of rhyme (see OED). Sighing was considered deleterious to health; compare 2 Henry VI 3.2.61-3: 'blood-consuming sighs . . ./Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs', and 47.4." (Blakemore Evans, 142). However, the ordinary word 'sight' also makes sense in this context; that is, the poet has lost many things that he has seen and loved.
dear friend (13): Shakespeare's first use of the term 'dear friend' in the Sonnets.
All losses...end. (14): His friend is as great as the sum of all the many things the poet sought but did not find.