Sunday Sonnet – 17 July 2016

My particular madness is the belief that Shakespeare’s sonnets are pertinent to our 21st century lives.  The other night I watched an actor read 40 of these sonnets, accompanied by two lutes and a recorder.  That actor gave me an idea.  Why can’t I do this?  I’m no trained Shakespearean actor and I don’t have a lute.  But I do believe Shakespeare wrote for all us, and wouldn’t mind a fool like me sharing what I love most.  Aloud. 

Let’s start with one of the early ‘Young Man’ Sonnets, Number 3.  As a young man, I was drawn to this one because of its sexual farming metaphor, and in particular to its great pun on husbandry. As an older man, I recognize the wisdom of its warning.   

3

Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest

Now is the time that face should form another;

Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,

Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.

For where is she so fair whose uneared womb

Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?

Or who is he so fond will be the tomb

Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee

Calls back the lovely April of her prime;

So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,

Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.

   But if thou live, remembered not to be,

   Die single and thine image dies with thee.

400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s Death

william-shakespeare

Shakespeare has become my religion.

Back in 1976, between my junior and senior years of high school, my family was uprooted to a new town because my father needed work. I was enrolled into a new high school at midsummer by a well-meaning principal who knew nothing about me and not much about his school’s curriculum. A mediocre student was thrown into Mrs. Kelley’s Honors English. Mrs. Kelly introduced me to two new couples: Romeo and Juliet, and the Macbeths. The epitome of Romantic Love dashed with a dagger and dram of poison. And the portrait of a happy marriage, mired in blood, that still inspires our entertainment industry today–thank you Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey.

In college, after I flunked out of Engineering, I gravitated back to where the long dead finger of Shakespeare had pointed me a couple years earlier: Theatre and Literature. In college I grew to love Shakespeare, ‘The Bard’, under the tutelage of some great minds: Doctors Paul and Sommer. Despite their best efforts, I graduated with a bachelor’s, but not much else. I would become no professor of literature, and no Kenneth Branagh.

As Shakespeare himself wrote, ‘with eyes severe and beard of formal cut’, I labored in all kinds of business, trying to find my way. Decades later, I’ve come back to the beginning. Beyond trying to write a novel about Shakespeare, I’ve grown to realize that Shakespeare has become my religion.  

He shapes and guides everything I write, promote and believe: Art, Love, Work, Daily Life, Politics, Society, Imagination and Hope. His works delve into what it means to be human, provide a guide of conduct, a code of ethics, all lessons to be learned, but presented lavishly in the most eloquent and beautiful language ever put to English.

  • What does human love mean and what is its importance? A seeming infinite list of plays, poems and characters explore this, but my favorite is Sonnet 116 (quoted at the end of this blog)
  • Romantic Love. True Love is not Romantic mush, but a meeting of minds, rooted in reality, nurtured with mutual respect, smart, tender but unmoving. See Beatrice and Benedict, from Much Ado About Nothing.
  • Open Love. Love between two people is not subject to anyone else’s bigoted restrictions. See The Sonnets. The (male) Poet and the Young Man; The Poet and the Dark Lady.
  • Women are the equal of Men. Shakespeare wrote in a society where women were considered property; yet by the end of his career what did he create? A long list of diverse and powerful women: Juliet, Beatrice, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Cordelia, Ophelia, Portia, Viola, Cleopatra just to name a few.
  • People are equal regardless of race. Elizabethans were violently and openly racist, and yet Shakespeare daringly created the tragic Othello.
  • Power corrupts. The examples seem infinite. Almost every History play teaches this.
  • The Divine Right of Kings. It’s a sham. This was especially tricky, since Shakespeare lived in a monarchy, and that Monarch, Elizabeth, liked Shakespeare’s plays. But his genius was that he could illustrate what may seem obvious to us in the most sly ways. And not all his History plays took the monarch down; in some the monarch succeeded, but that leader always exhibited what all good political leaders should embody: intelligence, grace, mercy, empathy, strength, wit and self sacrifice. This is the measure we should use today too.
  • War is vile. See any of his History plays, and most his Tragedies.
  • There’s not a lot religion in Shakespeare’s plays or poetry. By and large he avoided references to it or talking much about it. Perhaps a good practice to follow today in daily life and in our politics?
  • Life is Unfair. Love while you can, life is capricious. Shakespeare lived in plague times, and lost his own son, Hamnet, at age 11. Many of Shakespeare’s Histories and most of his Tragedies end with a stage strewn in blood. It’s a lesson.
  • Laughter is essential to life. His great Comedies and clowns seem almost infinite in their wit and joy.
  • Often the Fool is the Wisest. Certainly this is true in life, as was so often true in his plays. The best Fool? See King Lear.
  • Revenge is not the way to go. It’s better to forgive. See Hamlet.
  • Mental illness and suicide are things. See Ophelia and Hamlet. This was a particularly wild notion in Elizabethan times. But Shakespeare could see it, and was able to show it on stage.
  • Forgive, cast away your power and strive for grace. Prospero, from one of Shakespeare’s last plays.
  • Shakespeare’s plays and poetry are a treasure trove of words and phrases first used in English, many of which are still in use today, including but not limited to:
    • Brave New World
    • Break the ice
    • Cold comfort
    • Dead as a doornail
    • Eaten out of house and home
    • Faint-hearted
    • For goodness’ sake
    • Full circle
    • Good riddance
    • Heart of gold
    • Kill with kindness
    • Laughing stock
    • Love is blind
    • Milk of human kindness
    • My heart on my sleeve
    • One fell swoop
    • Wild goose chase

And don’t forget, Shakespeare invented the Knock-knock joke!

Though we celebrate the anniversary of his death today, 23 April is also traditionally considered Shakespeare’s birthday, the day calculated back from his day of christening.

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare, and thank you for the immense contribution to life, language and love.

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds  

Admit impediments. Love is not love  

Which alters when it alteration finds,  

Or bends with the remover to remove:  

O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;  

It is the star to every wandering bark,  

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.  

Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks  

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,  

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.  

If this be error, and upon me prov’d,  

I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

 

 

Thankful for William Shakespeare – Thanksgiving Day 2016

rich-with-folio

On Tuesday of this week, I was fortunate enough to be able see one the surviving copies of Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio,’ which is on loan at our local museum from the Folger Shakespeare Library.  

Why is this book such a big deal?  Because, without it, eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays might very well have been lost, including such masterpieces as Macbeth, The Tempest, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Antony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and The Winter’s Tale, among others. 

We have Shakespeare’s three great series of verse: two he published himself, and the Sonnets saw publication, without Shakespeare’s permission, in his lifetime.  But only a selection of his plays were published before his death.    

You see, in Elizabethan times, the notion of a playwright ‘owning’ the plays he wrote was not how we think of it today.  The acting company owned the play, not the author (the egoistical Ben Jonson being a notable exception).  Since Shakespeare himself was one of the owners of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (and after Elizabeth I’s death, The King’s Men), he was, legally speaking, one of the owners of the plays he wrote.  But he didn’t have sole control.  And so at least eighteen of his plays either never saw publication or, if they did, their releases have been lost through the capricious destruction of time.

folio-1st-page

Fortunately, in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death, two of Shakespeare’s fellow company members, John Heminges and Henry Condell, took it upon themselves to assemble thirty-six of Shakespeare’s plays.  We can’t read their minds from four centuries away, but certainly they had a sense of Will’s enduring greatness.  Because these former players took on this herculean task (assembling, typesetting and printing such a gigantic volume in the Jacobean era was a massive, labor-intensive and costly endeavor), they forever changed Western Art.  They preserved Shakespeare’s innovation, eloquence and moral truths for posterity. 

Consider just a fraction of what Shakespeare left us:

Psychology: Hamlet introduced the notion of manic depression into Western Art.  To this very day we still fight a society-wide prejudice against mental illness.  But The Bard was able to peer into the heart of that affliction. 

Women:  In a society that treated women little better than expensive cattle, Shakespeare was able, as his craft matured, see women as human beings fully endowed with hope, wit, grace and the desire to be equals with men:

  • Lady Macbeth— Macbeth – saved by the First Folio, a woman who yearns for the same power as a man
  • Rosalind – As You Like It – saved by the First Folio, a woman who teaches the men around her what it means to think and feel like a human
  • Viola – Twelfth Night – saved by the First Folio, more clever than any of the men around her, disguised yet the epitome of honesty
  • Cleopatra – Antony and Cleopatra – saved by the First Folio, tragically fully human
  • So many others in other plays and verses we do have outside of the First Folio; two of my favorites are Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and the Dark Lady from The Sonnets.

The soliloquy:  Shakespeare invented the whole notion of a character in the imaginary world of the stage speaking directly to the audience—from the heart, uttering aloud the deepest secrets of consciousness.  He started it in Julius Caesar, and perfected it in Hamlet.  You know—‘To Be or Not to Be’.   This breaking down of the fourth wall, as it’s now called, is common practice today on our own TVs.  Think Keven Spacey from House of Cards

Race:  Shakespeare crossed over the hard and unremittent social barrier of racism.  Certainly Shakespeare was product of his time, and the Elizabethans were frightfully racist, but Shakespeare had the vision and daring to imagine characters like Othello and the Dark Lady of The Sonnets, fully-fleshed human beings.  Othello was actually published separately the year before The First Folio, but also included in that gigantic volume. 

Sex:  Breaking the barrier of sexual orientation:  Two-thirds of the Sonnets are a male poet writing to a Young man.   And in many of his plays—Twelfth Night, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice—women see fit to disguise themselves as men in order to achieve their goals.  There is so much going on with meme.  

Language – words:  up to 1700 words in the English language first appear in Shakespeare’s works: Addiction, amazement, arouse, bedroom, blanket, bloodstained, champion, circumstantial, cold-blooded, dauntless, dishearten, drugged, epileptic, elbow, eyeball, frugal, gloomy, gossip, hobnob, hurried, impartial, jaded, laughable, lustrous, madcap, majestic, moonbeam, obscene, Olympian, premeditated, puking, rant, savagery, skim milk, swagger, torture, undress, vaulting, worthless, zany and so many others. 

Language – phrases:  He invented dozens of catch phrases we still use today:  

  • The game is afoot
  • Bated breath
  • Break the ice
  • Cold comfort
  • Dead as a doornail
  • Eaten me out of house and home
  • For goodness’ sake
  • Foregone conclusion
  • Good riddance
  • Heart of gold
  • Kill with kindness
  • Love is blind
  • Milk of human kindness
  • One fell swoop
  • Wild goose chase

Language – poetic:  The eloquence of his poetry and prose is unequaled.  Today we find Elizabethan English challenging to understand.  Still, four centuries later audiences flock to Shakespeare plays.   Why?  One of the main reasons, I believe, is because it’s so achingly beautiful.  Good actors work hard to bring Shakespearean English to life so that the modern ear can understand.  But the beauty and power of that language takes little effort: it carries itself on the tongue. 

Humanity:  Shakespeare wrote with an invisible hand.  That is, he created hundreds of characters who were utterly individual, infused with the stuff of unique human life.  It’s a miracle to contemplate that a single artist could do this.  This is another facet of what makes Shakespeare’s play so enduring.    

Moral Code:  Finally, we come to the moral center of his works.  Whether histories, comedies, tragedies, the so-called problem plays, or the poetry, Shakespeare’s characters–their struggles, their fates, their aspirations and failures–speak to those things that make us human: loss, lust, jealousy, laughter, grace, hope and the greatest power us poor humans have, love. Shakespeare wrote about the human capacity for love in more ways than any other artist we’ve ever had.  His are lessons for the ages. 

These are just a few reasons why Shakespeare is my religion. 

 

 

 

Happy Halloween from William Shakespeare!

halloween-2016

Halloween as we know it today didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s time.  Our dark and costumed celebration evolved from many sources, including the Celtic ‘Samhain’ and the ongoing cultural and religious clashes between the pagan practices of the British Isles and the invasion of Christianity.  And so plenty of end-of-harvest rituals with pagan origins were practiced in Elizabethan times, especially in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

Certainly Shakespeare was aware of these, for his plays contain many examples of pagan and Christian myths, all mashed up. Judging by the way Shakespeare could chill and terrify his audiences, could one be blamed if they thought Shakespeare invented this holiday?  Of course he didn’t, but The Bard knew how to mix myth, superstition, paganism, Christianity, monsters, ghosts and curses.  Here are four of some my favorite creepy speeches from Shakespeare, my way of wishing everyone a very Bardic Halloween.  Enjoy! 

Caliban, from The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 2:

All the infections that the sun sucks up

From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him

By inchmeal a disease! His spirits hear me

And yet I needs must curse. But they’ll nor pinch,

Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’ th’ mire,

Nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark

Out of my way, unless he bid ’em. But

For every trifle are they set upon me,

Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me,

And after bite me, then like hedgehogs which

Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount

Their pricks at my footfall. Sometime am I

All wound with adders who with cloven tongues

Do hiss me into madness.

 

Iago, from Othello, Act 2 Scene 3:

How am I then a villain

To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,

Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!

When devils will the blackest sins put on

They do suggest at first with heavenly shows

As I do now. For whiles this honest fool

Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune

And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,

I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear:

 

The Ghost, from Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5:

I am thy father’s spirit,

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,

And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purg’d away. But that I am forbid

To tell the secrets of my prison house,

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word

Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,

Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres…

 

Lady Macbeth, from Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 5:

Come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.

Stop up the access and passage to remorse,

That no compunctious visitings of nature

Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between

The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,

And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers,

Wherever in your sightless substances

You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,

Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark

To cry “Hold, hold!”

 

Sunday Sonnet – 23 October 2016

sonnet-24

In our modern era we love movies, books and sports games that deliver us stunning reversals at the very end. Well, Shakespeare was practicing this over 400 years ago, and his Sonnet 24 is a superb example of that.

Number 24 contains one of the most fully complete metaphors of all of the sonnets: the Poet’s love for the Young Man’s beauty has consumed him, so much so that the Poet becomes a veritable painting, filled in with that beautiful image. The Poet’s gaze–his gazing at the Young Man–is the painter. The Poet’s body is the frame of that painting. The Poet’s bosom itself houses the exquisite image of the Young Man.

The sonnet is lovely to read. And up until its last line, this verse seems to hew to the traditional Romantic poetry of Shakespeare’s time: mindless (but delicious) adulation of the subject, something most of the rest of Shakespeare’s sonnets either deride or mock.   But Shakespeare doesn’t disappoint. The final couplet sets it up, and the final phrase of the sonnet delivers it: ‘know not the heart.’ The painting in the Poet’s bosom reflects only a surface illusion; all this adulation has done nothing to capture the Young Man’s heart. It’s all really just a sham.

24

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is the painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies;
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

Sunday Sonnet – 16 October 2016

sonnet-23

Sonnet 23 is rarely counted among Shakespeare’s greatest, but I’m terribly fond of it for a couple reasons.

Its opening lines allude to Shakespeare’s own profession as an actor, which is tantalizing since we know so little about Shakespeare’s life. I also like this sonnet because it speaks to the power of the written word, and how that is more enduring than the power of the spoken word. If you think about it, that pretty much summarizes Shakespeare’s two artistic worlds: his theatre craft, the art of the spoken word, and his published verse, the power of the written word. Of course both of these get muddled: After Shakespeare’s death, his friends published his plays, preserving the Bard’s legacy in writing. And poetry? Many believe all verse is meant to be read aloud.

For the purposes of this sonnet, the Poet argues that the Young Man can find the truest expression of the Poet’s love in his written verse, and not in speech. Isn’t that true for many of us even today, in our modern world? Written words to a lover carry so much more weight. It’s one thing to throw off a clever quip, too often spat out with too much emotion; so much more clear and enduring it you can commit that emotion to pen and paper.

23

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharged with burden of mine own love’s might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Sunday Sonnet – 09 October 2016

sonnet-20

Glorious, bawdy, androgynous and controversial, Sonnet # 20 is one of my favorites. The Poet is writing to the Young Man, and in this poem we get some hints of the Young Man’s physical attributes and the kind of sexuality he might’ve exuded: he evokes many qualities of a woman: ‘A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted / Hast thou’, ‘A woman’s gentle heart’ and ‘an eye more bright than theirs.’

As usual with Shakespeare’s sonnets, there’s a lot going on here. The Poet might be comparing his Young Man’s qualities to a woman’s, but at the same time he’s trashing women in general: ‘not acquainted / With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion’, and the Young Man’s eyes are brighter than woman’s, and ‘less false in rolling.’

Misogynistic? Yes, but this was the Elizabethan period. I’m not making the case that Shakespeare was a misogynist: many of his male characters were, but by the end of his career The Bard gave us some astonishing female characters. But for the purposes of this sonnet, it’s there and it’s hard to argue against.

Then there’s the bawdy part, and it’s not overt like some stuff in his later sonnets. It’s sly. Nature has made the Young Man very much like a woman, except for that small detail of ‘one thing.’ And in case you don’t get what that one thing is, Shakespeare can’t resist slipping in a delicious pun in the final couplet ‘But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure.’

Reading this sonnet, it’s also wise to remember that Shakespeare loved to change up gender roles; his plays have many instances of the sexes getting mixed up. Here, of course, it’s not an intentional disguise that’s mixing up the sexes, it’s Nature herself.

So what’s the Poet to do with this mix up? He pretty much doesn’t know–for the moment he’s satisfied to take the Young Man’s love, letting women take the ‘one thing’ the Poet has no use for.

The intricacies don’t stop there. An examination of the poem’s iambic pentameter show that in this sonnet, Shakespeare gave what’s known in poetic circles as feminine endings to his lines: that is, an extra syllable at the end. ‘Painted’ and ‘acquainted’, so on and so forth.  

Finally, there’s the historical and critical controversy over Sonnet #20. Does it suggest Shakespeare might’ve been gay? Are the Sonnets numbered in an intentional sequence and thus tell a story–making #20 key? If so, is that story autobiographical? Who knows? Just go and enjoy this masterpiece!

20

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all ‘hues’ in his controlling,
Much steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick’d thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

Sunday Sonnet – 02 October 2016

sonnet-19

As the sequence of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets dives into its second section–the love poems to the Young Man–in number 19 we get a taste of Shakespeare’s sense of ‘Time.’ It’s nice to be right (in my own life I’m occasionally right) but here Shakespeare was right now only when he wrote this sonnet, but he’s still right four hundred years later: the only thing that can combat the destruction of Time is the power of Art.

This sonnet is not considered to be among his greatest, but I think it’s fantastic for its vivid animal imagery describing time’s devouring power. It starts with:

            And Earth devour her own sweet brood;  

            Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws…

In addition to being a sonnet that’s a lot of fun to read aloud, if you remember my little tutorial from a week ago, Sonnet 19 breaks one of the rules of the Shakespearean sonnet. The ‘turn’ in the argument begins one line early; not at the start of the third quatrain, but in the last line of the second quatrain:

             But I forbid thee one most heinous crime.  

I don’t know if this should be considered a ‘flaw’ in this sonnet or not. Certainly Shakespeare was aware of it; perhaps for the sake of balance and argument, he chose to place the turn in his argument one line early. Or I perhaps it was too hard to fix. That I kind of doubt–he was the master of this form. I’ve tried writing Shakespearean sonnets, and it’s incredibly difficult to construct anything that makes sense, reads well, doesn’t mix metaphors, follows the proscribed meter and rhyme, follows the sonnet form, and is good enough to still be read four hundred years later.

Flaw or not, Time devours everything but Art.

19

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

 

Sunday Sonnet – 18 September 2016

sonnet-18

Shakespeare’s Sonnet # 18, written over 400 years ago, is a miracle. Often quoted, it is regarded by many to be the quintessential love sonnet. Summer and the cycles of seasons are the grand metaphor here, with the Poet comparing his love to the beauty of a summer’s day. But, like a summer’s day, that beauty passes. The argument of this sonnet is sublimely simple: fear not, for your beauty, and my love for you, will be preserved in the lines of this verse.

Oftentimes this sonnet is read at weddings. What folks often forget or don’t even realize is that the Poet wrote this sonnet to another man. Extraordinary for something from the Elizabethan era. In the cycle of 154 Sonnets, this is the first turning point–where the Poet first admits he loves the Young Man. What a way to proclaim it!

What’s truly lovely about this sonnet, I think, is that it’s perfect for any wedding, heterosexual or otherwise, and for any era; wonderfully suited to any couple in love, regardless of their makeup, and a timeless expression of life, death and Art, evoking one of the most beautiful of human qualities–rapture for another human.

18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Much thanks to my dear old mom, who let me record this in her back forty, on a late summer day.

Sunday Sonnet – 11 September 2016

sonnet-17-1

What can defeat death? Medicine? Religious faith? Neither of these seem to do the trick for Shakespeare. No, for the Bard, only Art defeats death.

Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence of 154 verses, if read as a whole, reveal a kind of narrative thread. If you follow that thread, number 17 marks the end of the first part. The poet is just about fed up with trying to convince the beautiful Young Man to preserve his beauty by producing a beautiful child, and instead for the first time suggests that maybe the poet’s own poetic Art might be the only thing to overcome the power of death.

The suggestion is hesitant at first, for the Poet seems to disparage the veracity of his poetic art–‘The Poet lies’. But by the end of this sonnet he seems more certain of Art’s power: ‘You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.’

There’s some truly beautiful language in this sonnet, and I always find it a challenge to read aloud.

17

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say ‘This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.’
So should my papers yellow’d with their age
Be scorn’d like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.

Sunday Sonnet – 28 August 2016

Sonnet 15

I love Sonnet 15. It marks a turn in Shakespeare’s great sequence of 154 sonnets. The poet turns from trying to convince the Young Man that he needs to father a child in order to preserve his beauty. You see, there’s another way to preserve the Young Man’s beauty: the Poet’s power of verse! On this point the Poet was most certainly correct.  Over four hundred years later we’re still reading these words, but have no idea if the Young Man’s line survived or not. There’s even doubt about who the Young Man was.

Note the lovely imagery throughout, and the exquisite multilayered play on words in the last line.

15

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque’d even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

 

Sunday Sonnet – 21 August 2016

Sonnet 14

For the first dozen or so of Shakespeare’s amazing sonnet sequence of 154 poems, the Poet’s been trying to get the Young Man to marry a woman and reproduce to preserve his beauty. But now, by Sonnet 14, things start changing. Slowly but surely, the Poet is falling in love with the Young Man. In the Elizabethan era, this is wild and dangerous stuff!

It starts when the Poet likens the beautiful Young Man’s eyes to stars–a common poetic image nowadays. Not unlike the dreamy infatuation between young lovers we see everywhere. But what’s so cool here is that on its surface, the Poet seems to be talking about the Young Man’s eyes, he’s really revealing himself: Line 9 starts to spells it out: ‘But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive.’ Reason or good sense be damned, the Poet derives real truth and beauty from the eyes of the person he’s become infatuated with.  We’ve all seen that before, haven’t we? And most of us have lived it.

14

Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
And yet methinks I have astronomy,
But not to tell of good or evil luck,
Of plagues, of dearths, or seasons’ quality;
Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
Pointing to each his thunder, rain and wind,
Or say with princes if it shall go well,
By oft predict that I in heaven find:
But from thine eyes my knowledge I derive,
And, constant stars, in them I read such art
As truth and beauty shall together thrive,
If from thyself to store thou wouldst convert;
Or else of thee this I prognosticate:
Thy end is truth’s and beauty’s doom and date.