Thursday, December 01, 2016

A Toast To Winter: Part II, Shakespeare's Winter Sonnet

For years I have wanted to write about this poem, but it has come so freshly to mind every year and the different lines have had such different meanings — and have faded in and out of focus in relation to each other, some sometimes more distinct in my mind than others — that it seemed important to wait until the right moment. Or, perhaps, to write about it repeatedly from various perspectives.

First I encountered it in school; and in university when walking past the trees on campus when they had lost their leaf, looked blackened like the embers in the poem, and a wintry sun was sinking behind the buildings, I would think of it often. It also presented, retrospectively, a metaphor for the wasteland I felt I had passed through before I reached university.

But then it also had half a sacred aspect to me, with its choirs and the thought of eternity, and I pictured a ruined abbey or a church in the background of the scenery — even though I generally don't read Shakespeare for descriptions of scenery.

At any rate I felt that it is a poem that will likely reveal its meaning even more to me the older I am — even if the arc of Shakespeare's sonnets still seems to me to be a rather whiny paean to ego, adorned undeservedly with some beautiful verses, and more obsessed with (the narrator's own, and vicariously the narrator's through those of his love objects) youth and beauty, and by the grovelling fear of death, than ennobled by true love of another. That said, I am clearly forming a very harsh judgment and I haven't read any proper critics who have presented the sonnet cycle in a similar light.


'Ruins of the Oybin (Dreamer)'
Caspar David Friedrich, ca. 1835
Oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum
Via Wikimedia Commons

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
  This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
  To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Wikipedia: "Sonnet 73"

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