How oft when thou, my music, music play'st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway'st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap,
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap,
At the wood's boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O'er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more bless'd than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
The poet turns to the elaborate conceits that other sonneteers were accustomed to use as expressions of their desire for closer intimacy with the beloved. They would wish to be a glove which embraced her hand, a hat, a handkerchief, a glass, a lap dog, or, in the case of Barnabe Barnes, in the sonnet sequence Parthenophil and Parthenophe, the wine which his mistress drinks, which gradually works through her body and makes its way out 'by Pleasure's part'. (The sonnet is given below). In As You Like It, Touchstone the clown remembers how, when in love, he kissed the wooden washing paddle and the cows' teats that his mistress had touched.
I remember, when I was in love I broke my sword upon a stone and bid him take that for coming a-night to Jane Smile; and I remember the kissing of her batlet and the cow's dugs that her pretty chopt hands had milked; AYL.II.4.44-8.
In more modern times, Pushkin desired to be the waves which lapped over his beloved's feet, and he envied the stirrup into which she mounted her foot. (Eugene Onegin I.33.) There is nothing which will not, on occasion, fit itself to the task of bringing the lover into closer contact with the loved one. Ben Jonson is thought to have satirized the fashion in the following, in which the foppy courtier, Fastidious Briske, wishes to be his mistress' viola da gamba:
Oh she tickles it so, that ... she makes it laugh most divinely ... I'll tell you a good jest now, and you yourself shall say its a good one. I have wished myself to be that instrument, I think, a thousand times, and not so few, by heaven!
Every Man out of his Humour II.9.102-6.
But however light hearted we might think this sonnet to be, we have to see it in its setting, and remember that it is followed by a sonnet of the most profound sexual pessimism. Perhaps the contrast is deliberate, and it may be that Shakespeare wished to portray the whole range of emotion he experienced, from the heights to the depths. For this brief interlude, there is a ray of sunshine, and the poet takes pleasure in seeing his mistress playing. But the pleasure is not entirely unalloyed, for it is mixed with unfulfilled longings, and a jealousy that suspects that her favours are being too liberally bestowed on others.
A manuscript version of this sonnet is extant in the Bodleian Library. It is thought that it may contain genuine contemporary alternative readings. See the bottom of the page for the full text.
Barnabe Barnes. Parthenophil and Parthenope, Sonnets, 1593
Jove for EUROPA's love, took shape of Bull;
And for CALISTO, played DIANA's part:
And in a golden shower he filled full
The lap of DANAE, with celestial art.
Would I were changed but to my Mistress' gloves,
That those white lovely fingers I might hide!
That I might kiss those hands, which mine heart loves!
Or else that chain of pearl (her neck's vain pride)
Made proud with her neck's veins, that I might fold
About that lovely neck, and her paps tickle!
Or her to compass, like a belt of gold!
Or that sweet wine which down her throat doth trickle,
To kiss her lips, and lie next at her heart,
Run through her veins, and pass by Pleasure's part!
The 1609 Quarto Version
HOw oft when thou my muſike muſike playſt,
Vpon that bleſſed wood whoſe motion ſounds
With thy ſweet fingers when thou gently ſwayſt,
The wiry concord that mine eare confounds,
Do I enuie thoſe Iackes that nimble leape,
To kiſſe the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilſt my poore lips which ſhould that harueſt reape,
At the woods bouldnes by thee bluſhing ftand.
To be ſo tikled they would change their ſtate,
And ſituation with thoſe dancing chips,
Ore whome their fingers walke with gentle gate,
Making dead wood more bleſt then liuing lips,
Since ſauſie Iackes ſo happy are in this,
Giue them their fingers,me thy lips to kiſſe.