Accuse me thus: that I have scanted all,
Wherein I should your great deserts repay,
Forgot upon your dearest love to call,
Whereto all bonds do tie me day by day;
That I have frequent been with unknown minds,
And given to time your own dear-purchased right;
That I have hoisted sail to all the winds
Which should transport me farthest from your sight.
Book both my wilfulness and errors down,
And on just proof surmise accumulate;
Bring me within the level of your frown,
But shoot not at me in your wakened hate;
Since my appeal says I did strive to prove
The constancy and virtue of your love.
On a superficial level this sonnet commences a sequence which defends the poet against the charge of unfaithfulness and disloyalty, an accusation which harks back to sonnets 109 - 113, which have already dealt with the themes of betrayal and separation. But on a wider level one must look back also to those groups of sonnets which reflect on the youth's own lack of truth, and detail the poet's tortured reactions to his faithlessness. Sonnets 33-6 deal with the topics of separation and disloyalty, 40-42 with that of betrayal by the youth, 66-70 with worthlessness and inward corruption, 87-98 with merits and demerits, abandonment and separation, and 105 deals with constancy. All these themes are recalled in this poem, and the verbal and ideational links to other sonnets are especially rich. It is perhaps no accident that sonnet 87
Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing
is exactly fifty away from this sonnet, as if to mark a definite period of time in which the mirror has swung round. For this group of sonnets running from 117-121 does in a sense mirror the earlier groups in which the youth appeared to be at fault for his fickleness and lack of truth. Here it is the poet who must make excuse and find sophistical reasons for his apparent desertion of the beloved, rather than the beloved who has to be excused and justified.
As with all the other sonnets, although we are free to speculate, it is impossible to fix on any specific action or inaction as the cause of the descriptions of misdemeanours here listed. The charge sheet promises to be detailed, specific and accurate, as befitting a legal deposition, but when examined it is found to be very large in scope but short on facts. A phrase such as 'hoisted sail to all the winds' admits an interpretation of all manner of profligacy, sexual and otherwise, but it is so general that one can never be sure entirely what it means, or that the poet is confessing to anything at all. Nevertheless, when taken with the following sonnets, it seems that some philandering on the part of the poet has been advanced as the justification for the youth no longer keeping faith, even though the initial cause of separation of the two may have been something entirely different (a natural growing apart, imprisonment of the youth etc.). It is possible also that this section links in with the dark lady sequence, where the poet becomes infatuated with a woman, a cause which might well be cited in a divorce court when drawing up an affidavit. But the history of this love, whoever and whatever was involved, must inevitably remain forever in the mists of speculation.
The praise of constancy and virtue in the youth, as in Sonnets 53 and 105 also suggests that there is perhaps some allegorical significance in this sonnet, since these are more religious qualities than secular ones, nor does the youth particularly shine in them anyway. Perhaps the poet is hinting at straying in matters of faith and is glad to report his return to the true fold at last. (See the Introductory Notes).
The 1609 Quarto Version
ACcuſe me thus,that I haue ſcanted all,
Wherein I ſhould your great deſerts repay,
Forgot vpon your deareſt loue to call,
Whereto al bonds do tie me day by day,
That I haue frequent binne with vnknown mindes,
And giuen to time your owne deare purchaſ'd right,
That I haue hoyſted ſaile to al the windes
Which ſhould tranſport me fartheſt from your ſight.
Booke both my wilfulneſſe and errors downe,
And on iuſt proofe ſurmiſe,accumilate,
Bring me within the leuel of your frowne,
But ſhoote not at me in your wakened hate :
Since my appeale ſaies I did ſtriue to prooue
The conſtancy and virtue of your loue.