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Shakespeare's Sonnets as an End Towards Immortality

Aside from Sonnet #18, Shall I compare thee to a Summer's Day?, Shakespeare's Sonnets previously had never really registered with me before. I am sure that I had read a selection of them in high school but at the time they had not really managed to resonate with me. Perhaps this is due to me growing older, for certainly the Sonnets had remained the same.

Reading them this past week truly felt like reading them for the first time. I found myself oddly sentimental towards the expressions of friendship and love but I also felt strangely receptive to the prosaic urgings for reproduction as an end toward immortality.

Sonnet #1 starts:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose may never die,
But as riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory;

Sonnet #3 preaches:

Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?

As Sonnet #12 ends:

     And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defense
     Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

The message resonates, "breed or die, breed or die, it is your duty!" Shakespeare's urgings reminded me of a conversation I had with my father over dinner recently which had left me rather shocked. My father lives in Los Angeles and does not come up to visit very often.

Divorce and years of being single had made my father rather romantically conservative. He had always been an advocate of taking one's time when it came to matters of the heart. He asked me how things were in my personal life.

I began to answer honest and earnestly, conversation tends to flow easily between he and I. However this time I could tell he uncharacteristically wasn't really listening to me. Not even part the way through what I was talking about he abruptly cut me off and waved his hand in a dismissive way and said, "you know what, I think you had better get busy and start thinking about providing me with some grandchildren."

I am not generally used to considering my parent's ambitions for family because they have so seldom spoke about it. I realized for the first time that I really am closer to the age of being a parent than further away from it just as my father is closer to the age of being a grandfather than of being a middle-aged man.

Similarly I wondered what must have been Shakespeare's motivation in seeing the continuation of a bloodline. I wondered if he was trying to tell this to some friend in particular or if perhaps he was reflexively trying to speak to himself. How old was he when he wrote these sonnets? How was he feeling when he sat down to write them?

Luckily Shakespeare has left us with all the tools of attracting members of the opposite sex, should genetic immortality be our goal. I found out rather to my own amusement how great of a reaction one can get if you send an e-mail containing a particularly romantic sonnet to someone with the subject line, "something that made me think of you."

One sonnet that I felt particularly strongly about personally was Sonnet #73:

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 ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest 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 though seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
     This thou perceiv'st, which makes they love more strong,
     To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Nothing in this world says, "hurry up and love me!" better than that, does it not?


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Cross post from The Bard's Blog. Aside from Sonnet #18, Shall I compare thee to a Summer's Day?, Shakespeare's Sonnets previously had never really registered with me before. I am sure that I had read a selection of them... [Read More]