Shakespeare (sonnet 25):

Let those who are in favor with their stars
Of public honor and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlooked for joy in that I honor most.
Great princes' favorites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies burièd,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famousèd for worth,
After a thousand victories once foiled,
Is from the book of honor razèd quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toiled.
  Then happy I that love and am belovèd
  Where I may not remove nor be removèd.

I don't understand the basic meaning of the bolded line. Where is the verb? Is it "joy" = "to feel enjoyment"?

Could we rephrase it thus:

Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlooked-for, feel enjoyment in the things I honor most.

One other option I came up with is "I boast in unlooked-for joy", but then I cannot make sense of the rest of the sentence: "in that I honor most".

But wait, my first option is also shaky, because it's "that" and not "what" (I honor most).

  • "The hidden joy I receive from being loved" is what he is saying. – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jan 17 '17 at 15:44
  • @BrianTompsett-汤莱恩 - so the whole sentence has no verb? "Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars, the hidden joy I received from being loved" makes no sense. Is it an omission of "boast"? (I boast of "unlooked-for joy") Still it fails to glue together for me. – CowperKettle Jan 17 '17 at 15:46
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    No. He is not boasting. It is the silent secret pleasure of being saved by love while suffering lifes arduous misfortunes. Yes, there is no explicit verb I can see, but a grammarian may offer a more explicit response. I would imply the hidden verbs of feel, know , recieve or experience. – Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩 Jan 17 '17 at 15:51
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    The verb is to joy. Unlook'd for is, according to websites, either an adjective (describing the speaker) or an adverb describing the verb joy. – green_ideas Jan 17 '17 at 17:01
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    A modern dialect might use "that which I honor most" or "what I honor most" or even "whom I honor most". In this dialect, "that" can stand alone -- with the advantage of not distinguishing between "what" and "whom". The reader doesn't know whether a person is involved until the closing couplet. – Gary Botnovcan Jan 17 '17 at 17:15

Your intuition is correct. The early modern 'joy' was a verb as well as a noun. So the meaning is essentially:

So I - whose fortune has only been to be someone unimportant - being unknown, take pleasure in the thing I honor most (the object of my unrequited love). But whereas courtiers' and soldiers' joy is shallow and easily overturned, I can never be rejected as my beloved doesn't even know I want her [or him - this is a point of contention].

Phonically I think the stressed syllable helps hint that it's a verb, too.

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