Friday 6 January 2012

Happy New Year; and Shakespeare

Writers of poetry tend not to say Shakespeare, when asked who are their favourite poets of long ago, or who their formative influences have been.  They are much more likely to mention Keats & co, or Herbert & co, for example.  Why?  Don’t his iambic pentameters, especially the soliloquies and other set speeches, run in our modernist veins?  And the sonnets, and greasy Joan?  Perhaps the plays are too great a monument to be seen, or felt.  They are just there. 

47 South View, Heaton, Newcastle-on-Tyne, photo Paul Barlow
Here’s Sonnet 64, in which all monuments fall.  Hardly cheerful for a New Year; but it feels appropriate, after 2011’s Arab Spring, financial terrors, natural disasters.  This week’s gales, too.   

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 64

When I have seen by time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime-lofty towers I see down razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay,
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate:
That time will come and take my love away.
   This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
   But weep to have that which it fears to lose. 

One can draw optimism from such perfection.  Art as a stay against mortality, and in defiance of it.  Happy New Year! 

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Following my post on WG Sebald last week, I’ve been listening to some short talks about him on iPlayer, here.  The series is called Looking and Looking Away.  (Not knowing that, and until I retrieved the link a friend had sent me, I couldn’t find it.  Searching for Sebald on iPlayer drew, absurdly, a blank.)  I specially recommend the first talk by Christopher Bigsby, which is enlightening about how Sebald found his subject matter. 

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