I have to tell you, I was ready to give up on the sonnets this time around. Creepy Uncle Bill really only seems to have one thing on his mind: getting his pretty young friend to have some damn kids already. It was funny for five sonnets, uncomfortable for the next set of five, but by the time I got to the end of Sonnet 14, it was plain gross. The only variation between poems seems to be the analogy Bill uses for the ravages of time and the aggressiveness of his rhetoric. Otherwise, they all say the same thing.
Sonnet 11 takes a crunchy, granola-eating tack when Bill tells his friend that Nature gave him the ability to reproduce, so don’t flout that gift. Leave the poor degenerates to childlessness. Be one with Nature, my dude, and get someone pregnant!
Sonnets 12 and 13 discuss beauty fading and immortality through reproduction. Both sonnets were rather unremarkable and well-worn territory except for the last line in 13 when the speaker says “You had a father. Let your son say so.” I like the idea that the son is going to be out in the world and the young man just has to attach himself to him by becoming his father. It’s perhaps a bit trippy and recursive, but I think I like a touch of psychedelia in my Shakespeare.
As I was enjoying the end of 13, I found myself unprepared for the absolute insanity of Sonnet 14. It invokes astrological imagery to make the case for reproduction and imagines the heavens looking down on Earth to watch this strange human drama play out. Of course, Uncle Bill tells his friend that because of this, he needs to have kids. Oh, and not only that, if you don’t have children the world will end. Again, the whole idea of the stars watching us live our lives seems like something to consider while on hallucinogens, but the apocalypse? Come on, Bill. That’s a bridge too far. This particular poem messed with my brain in a rather unpleasant way. I realized I was sick of reading some guy’s exhortations to his friend to procreate. It felt so intrusive and odd. Frankly, a bit obsessive. I even thought to myself that I would get through one more Sonnet and then reassess whether or not I would continue with this project.
Then came the subtle joy of Sonnet 15. It starts out with a familiar framework of the speaker telling a friend that he has to deal with time and aging, but rather than telling him he can live forever through husbandry, he says instead that his friend can live forever through this poem. In fact, he can be immortalized at his peak and maybe even be improved upon a bit by having a verse written about him. There is no mention of having kids anywhere in the poem! In fact, there is a major turn in the narrative structure. Instead of the speaker (always Uncle Bill in my mind) informing a friend that he, the friend, has a hidden strength that can be exploited (namely the ability to have children), Bill is telling the friend that he, Bill, has strength and power over the friend in his artistic abilities. It was a truly interesting and refreshing turn.
I came *this* close to abandoning the sonnet portion of this project, but now I’m fired up about it again and am interested in seeing where else his poetry goes. Goodness knows there are still a lot of sonnets left to read, so my hope is that he explores many other topics and doesn’t get stuck for too long on any given theme.