Sunday Sonnet – 27 December 2015

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.  

Sunday Sonnet – 25 January 2015

Shakespeare's grave

Shakespeare was obsessed with Time. He saw what the ravages of time did to those he knew and loved. His own son Hamnet died at the age of eleven. In Elizabethan times, death was all around: plague, pestilence, violence, war and the Elizabethan judicial system.   Perhaps in no other sonnet does the destructive power of Time enjoy such concrete imagery as in Sonnet 60:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked elipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

There’s so much going on here. The imagery of time: waves on pebbled shore as minutes. The powerful language of struggle: toil, fight, confound, delves, scythe. The journey of human life set down: nativity to maturity. Time as gift-giver and the gift-taker. And finally, the triumph of Art, which is the only thing we have that can defeat time: ‘in hope my verse shall stand.’

Here’s the thing about this Sonnet: To read, study and understand this single ‘Young Man’ sonnet is to understand much of Shakespeare: so many of the chief themes worked out in his plays and poetry are all here: The universal struggle against time’s destruction, and the only way to defeat it–to create Art. In Shakespeare’s case, to write. 

The image is of Will Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. I took this photo when I visited several years ago. Notice how Shakespeare is identified as “Poet.” The was his greatness, and how, in the end, he defeated time.