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OED: "stain" (v.)

Posted by R. Berg on February 01, 2002 at

In Reply to: Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth. posted by Word Camel on February 01, 2002

: : : "Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth." is the last line from Shakespear's sonnet 33.
: : : I think I understand the rest of the poem, on a superficial level at least, but this last line confuses me. I'm not sure what he means. Is it a pun?
: : : please lend me your good minds.

: : : Thanks,
: : : C

: : :
: : : I'm putting the rest of the poem below for reference.

: : : Full many a glorious morning have I seen
: : : Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
: : : Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
: : : Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
: : : Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
: : : With ugly rack on his celestial face,
: : : And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
: : : Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
: : : Even so my sun one early morn did shine
: : : With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
: : : But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
: : : The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now.
: : : Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
: : : Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

: : We're going to get embroiled in the "Shakespeare was gay" thing again, I fear... however.

: : The poet throughout compares the beauty of the (male) object of his affection to the Sun. Halfway through, he notes forlornly that ugly clouds can obscure even the Sun's radiance, and apparently send it slinking off to set in shame. He draws a sad direct analogy between the sullying effect of clouds on the Sun, and the potentially depressing fact that his love only hung around for an hour, but then perks up by realising that, hey, if the *real* celestial Sun can be marred by the passage of clouds, then Hell, who is he to complain if his relationship with a figurative worldly sun is occasionally not everything he might wish for? So the poet's talking himself into cutting his love some slack.

: : By the way, the object of the poet's affection is clearly male... I mean he only hung around for the bare minimum of an hour the morning after, and I bet he never called or wrote...

: : The Fallen (unashamedly male)


This might be relevant. The OED gives, as an obsolete meaning of "stain," "Of the sun, etc.: To deprive (feebler luminaries) of their lustre. Also fig. of a person or thing: To throw into the shade by superior beauty or excellence; to eclipse. . . . (Very common in the 16th c.)" For "stain" as an intransitive verb, an obsolete meaning is "To lose color or lustre," and the OED's quotations illustrating this use include Shakespeare's "Suns of the world" line. So he was using "stain" to mean "fade," perhaps with some overtones that add richness--suggestions of beauty, corruption, darkening (of mood).

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