Sunday Sonnet – 08 November 2015

sonnet 65

Only Poetry can defeat the ravages of Time. Shakespeare fervently asserts this in Sonnet 65, as he does so often in so much of his work.   Do you doubt him? You shouldn’t. The remains of the Elizabethan era, over four centuries gone, has left us only vestiges of its glory: London burned, obliterating most of its physical relics; every breathing soul dust in the Earth; its spoken language elusive–we’ll never know for certain how Elizabethan English really sounded; and we can only guess at what the stink of daily must’ve been. But the Poet’s love for his Young Man? Why, this sonnet is as brilliant and perfectly preserved as the day Shakespeare fixed its last iamb:

65

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wreckful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

The intensity of the Poet’s emotions come through–through four hundred years. Simple black ink is able to capture and hold the despair Shakespeare felt against destroyer Time–how it ravages both love and life.

I wonder what Shakespeare might think if he knew that folks, four centuries later, were still reading his works. Would he be surprised?

The image comes from a photo of Kenilworth Castle, in ruins of course. This castle was owned by Robert Dudley, the great love of Queen Elizabeth, whom she was never able to marry.

Sunday Sonnet – 11 January 2015

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.