Shakespeare's grave

The central conceit of Sonnet 31 is strange, almost supernatural, and creepy.   By this point in the sonnet sequence, the Poet has fallen in love with the Young Man and now sees in this fair youth the loving essence of every old lover the Poet has ever had–to the point of likening the Young Man to a grave:

31

Thy bosom is endeared with all hearts,
Which I by lacking have supposed dead,
And there reigns love and all love’s loving parts,
And all those friends which I thought buried.
How many a holy and obsequious tear
Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye
As interest of the dead, which now appear
But things removed that hidden in thee lie!
Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give;
That due of many now is thine alone:
Their images I loved I view in thee,
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.

‘Thou art the grave where buried love doth live’ – you’re a grave where dead loves return to life

‘many a holy and obsequious tear / Hath dear religious love stol’n from mine eye / As interest of the dead, which now appear’ – I’ve shed tears at funerals for old loves I believed dead, only to find them in you

It’s pretty crazy. But when you consider the Elizabethan world and its life expectancy–plague, disease, bad nutrition, horrific medicine–and the middle-age of the Poet in love with a younger man, perhaps this grave and resurrection analogy isn’t so out of place.

And in the final couplet, the Poet says something beautiful and eloquent: That the Young Man embodies all of the loves the Poet’s ever known, and in that the Young Man has all of the Poet:

Their images I loved I view in thee,
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me.

Shakespeare was a genius at bringing together opposites: tragedy and comedy residing check to check in his plays; seemingly disparate themes and notions not colliding, but coalescing into one. The despair of the grave becoming the joy and solace of great love.

The image is of Shakespeare’s own grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Photo taken by Yours Truly.  

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