Startford

When does Easter fall every year? The simplest explanation is that it’s always on the Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Spring Equinox, though this hasn’t always been the case. The point is that the Early Church Fathers wanted to approximate the timing of Easter to match the of year they imagined the first one occurred on. Anyhow, tying the lives of people to the cycles of Nature–that’s what today’s sonnet is all about: 

5

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame

The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,

Will play the tyrants to the very same

And that unfair which fairly doth excel;

For never-resting time leads summer on

To hideous winter, and confounds him there;

Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,

Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:

Then were not summer’s distillation left,

A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,

Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,

Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was:

   But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

   Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet. 

I believe this sonnet is best enjoyed for its wonderful extended metaphor, and not for its lame argument. Its argument is that Poet’s beautiful Young Man should procreate in order to preserve the ‘summer’s distillation’ of his physical beauty so that in the face of hideous winter, something is left. But what’s really lovely is how Shakespeare ties in the progression of human life through the seasons and how they all relate to one another. Especially flowers, that wilt once winter comes, but remain memorable because of the perfume there were used to create: 

   But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,

   Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet. 

What I most like in this sonnet are the lines: ‘For never-resting time leads summer on / To hideous winter, and confounds him there.’ A wise warning to us all to cherish and embrace the ones you love, especially on a day like today. 

The image is from my visit a few years ago to Stratford-upon-Avon on a very spring-like rainy day. This is leading up to entrance of Holy Trinity Church, where William Shakespeare is buried.

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