Like most modern Americans, I have only a passing acquaintance with poetry. I am most familiar with nursery rhymes and the work of Shel Silverstein from my childhood, but I have studied poetry in a more formal manner in both high school and college. I like poetry, particularly the focus on the sound of language and the interplay between words and lines, breaking out meaning in several different ways. I like it, but I rarely seek it out. It’s always so much work.
I mean, it’s not actually any more difficult than reading a story about vampire teenagers attending wizarding school, or whatever. But it’s using different brain muscles that I don’t exercise often enough. It seems hard only because I don’t practice it often enough. So, in these interludes, I will be taking on several of Shakespeare’s poems to try and build up my poetry brain a bit.
Sonnet 1 is advice to some young pretty person to have kids so they don’t waste their beauty by getting old and dying with nothing to pass on. It seems the speaker, we’ll call him Uncle Bill, really hates the idea that a good looking person would choose to leave this world without passing on his ideal proportions and symmetrical features. Uncle Bill says “Pity the world, or else this glutton be,/To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee”. Yes, he is in fact saying that beautiful people owe it to the world to procreate. Well, that seems a bit surprising. Perhaps Sonnet 2 is about flowers or something.
Nope, Sonnet 2 starts off by Uncle Bill telling a young pretty person that when they turn forty, they will be haggard and broke-down. His advice is to spend one’s youth in a productive way. How? By having kids to pass on those ideal proportions and symmetrical features, that’s how. He says that a person’s whole worth is held in their progeny. Really? What was William Shakespeare’s son’s name? I think posterity has shown that his creative output is much more important than how sexy his descendants were. Anyway, the first two sonnets were just variations on a theme. Now, for some more classical poetry content (i.e. flowers, love, etc.).
Uncle Bill definitely has something on his mind, because Sonnet 3 has him chiding the young pretty guy again by saying he will “unbless some mother” by not giving her a child and furthermore, any woman would be glad to get pregnant with such a pretty baby. By the way, he really needs to get on that, because without kids he will die alone and leave nothing of value to the world. Geez! Uncle Bill, you’re really prying into some personal business here. Perhaps he’s not ready for kids, or he hasn’t found the right person to spend his life with. Please, can we just move on and talk about flowers or something?
No, we cannot. Sonnet 4 has Uncle Bill accusing the young pretty guy of abusing nature by not using the gifts she gave him freely to have kids and further his line. Uncle Bill says that the young man’s looks will be wasted on the grave. Yikes. Okay, we take your point, Uncle Bill. We’ll get right on that.
Finally, Sonnet 5 is about how we can preserve the essence of spring by making perfume, and still remind ourselves of the aesthetic beauty of the warm months in the darkest depths of winter. Which is, of course, a metaphor for extending your family line so that your beauty will not fade even in death. Dammit, Uncle Bill!