Before I begin this ramble of mine, a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth comes to mind in which he describes life —
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more..
It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Chances are, this blog post will go the same way. You have been warned.
One of the nicer outcomes of an overpriced ICSE education in India was the love for Shakespeare’s writings that it developed in me. Revisited some of the bard’s sonnets in the last few days. Here I reproduce, what is arguably my favorite, along with my interpretation of it. But first, a li’l background on sonnets —
The genre of sonnets became popular under the guiding influence of the Italian poet Petrarch. The basic form of the Petrarchan sonnet had 14 lines divided into two distinct parts, an opening octet (8 lines) and a closing sestet (6 lines). The octet often presented a dilemma that the sestet addressed in resolving. Also, the Petrarchan sonnets usually were a sequence of poems written by a besotted lover about an unapproachable or unattainable love, someone the poet pined excessively for.
In style, sonnets were often used by a poet to show off his skill. Excessive use of flowery language, metaphors, extended metaphors (also called ‘conceits’) and hyperbole was common. This resulted in the poem being an obvious testament to a poet’s talent as much as a tribute to his love. Shakespeare however, brought a certain sincerity and directness to this otherwise rather superficial treatment of the feeling of love.
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 cancelled woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanished 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 restor’d and sorrows end.
A rather pensive sonnet, the poet ruminates on his life and the sorrows that have come with it. There is a tone of discontentment, a sentiment carried over from the previous sonnet (29). However just like the joyful sentiment that ends the previous one .. (For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with kings) .. this too ends on a positive upbeat note. The poet dwells in the sorrow of his dead friends and his friend/love’s absence only worsens it. Yet, it is the thought of the same friend/love that relieves him of his sadness and gives him emotional strength.
The denouement of the concluding couplet is striking in its simplicity and directness as opposed to the heavier language used in the first 12 lines to signify the pall of gloom in his life. (But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, All losses are restor’d and sorrows end). The sharp contrast also helps transfer the feeling of unburdening that the poet feels, onto the reader.
Shakespeare’s use of alliteration within words to add a sense of rhythm to the sonnet is to be particularly noted. An example (of the many in this sonnet) is in the following couplet where the ‘V’ sound is stressed —
Then can I grieVe at grieVances foregone,
And heaVily from Woe to Woe tell o’er
Hmm.. I should remember to thank my 10th grade English teacher..