gatehouse-2

Have you ever missed your lover? Ever been in the throes of a wild love affair, where every waking minute away from your lover is torture, and every dream at night puts you back into his or her arms?    

43

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Shakespeare loved reversals, opposites, turns and double-meanings. They’re common in his plays, but he also used them in his sonnets. Paradoxical feelings are part of what makes us human, and part of what makes these centuries-old sonnets still applicable to our lives today.  

Double-meanings – Many words here serve double use as noun and verb: ‘shadow’ and ‘form’:

Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,

How would thy shadow’s form form happy show. 

Opposites – night and bright; ‘eyes best see’ and sightless; ‘living day’ and ‘dead night’; and that lovely phrase, ‘thy shade shines so’.

The sonnet’s final turn contains two reversals – the final couplet, where night is day, and day is night: 

All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

My favorite line is just simply lovely and gorgeous: 

And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.

Some interesting facts about this sonnet: Yes, it’s part of the Young Man sequence of sonnets: the Poet’s beloved is a man. And Benjamin Britten set this sonnet to music in his Nocturne, from 1958.   That Nocturne contains poetry from Keats, Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth.

The image is a royal Elizabethan bedroom. This particular one is from Leicester’s Gatehouse at Kenilworth Castle. Robert Dudley’s (The Earl of Leicester) was Queen Elizabeth’s suitor, and wooed her–unsuccessfully–for years.   He set up this bedroom for her. Just as the Poet above pined away for his lover, Dudley apparently pined away for Liz.  

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