Today’s the day we mark as William Shakespeare’s birthday. Close to April 23, 1564, he came into the world in the usual way, and was baptised on April 26 of that year. In 1616 (April 23, actually), he died. In between those dates he married, had children, became one of the most prolific playwrights and poets of the age, possessed ownership in an acting company (the Lord Chamberlain’s Men) and in two theatres (The Globe and The Blackfriar’s), and managed, then and now, to offer audiences (and readers!) a most profound portrayal of the human condition.
450 years of making a cultural and literary impact. Okay, give or take 20. He did have to grow up, after all.
Shakespeare’s sonnets (probably written in the mid to late 1590s) are “lovely, dark and deep,” just like the woods Robert Frost described. The poems (154 of them) are subjected to intense scrutiny. High school English teachers invite 14 – 18 year olds to dive in and explore. They don’t always know what they’re looking for. Mostly, they find intimidation. Undergrads sometimes fare better. Scholars of all sorts analyze the sequence. They might tell you about the”young man” and the “dark lady” of the sonnets. I will not. Instead, I will simply share the one that I love most. The one I shared every year that I taught British Lit to high school seniors. The one that pierces my heart with its poignant, metaphoric language. The one that reminds us all that life is all too brief…
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 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 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
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
450 years. And the fire he ignited in literary circles burns brightly still. Love that.