Today a sonnet to friendship seems appropriate to me because this weekend I’m briefly seeing a lot of friends I seldom get to visit. Part of the Young Man sequence of sonnets, this beautiful poem speaks to the melancholy of departed friends, and the memories you take with you:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
One of the remarkable things about this poem it its use of Elizabethan courtroom language: ‘Sessions’; ‘cancell’d’; ‘expense’; ‘grievances’; ‘account’; ‘pay’ and ‘paid’; ‘losses are restored’. The love for separated friends and courtroom lingo don’t seem an obvious match, but Shakespeare makes it work.
Lost chances, lost friends, the death of friends or loved ones brings the Poet to tears. However, all he has to do is think upon his dear friend–in this case the Young Man–and all his sorrows end.
Finally, ‘remembrance of things past’ from the gorgeous pair of opening lines is a phrase made famous by the translated English title of Proust’s 20th century classic novel.
The image is of the Hawkshead Courthouse in the Lake District, an example of what many courthouses might have looked like in the time of Shakespeare.