Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sonnet 73

Thanks once again to friend Alfred Corn for inspiring my thoughts upon Shakespeare's

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 twi-light of such day,
As after Sun-set fadeth in the West,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self that seals up all the rest.
In me thou seest 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 nourished by.
    This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Christopher Isherwood
and Don Bachardy

  • Conclusion to WS, Sonnet 73:

    "To love that well which thou must leave ere long."
    Susan Reilly, Venkatesan Iyengar and 15 others like this. 
    Catherine Metzger. Such a vulnerable place.

    Alfred Corn People, places, things we love become more treasured when we know we don't have long with them. And it's never very long.

    Catherine Metzger You posted this conclusion when I was reading The Wanderer, prompted by one of my daughters who is studying to take the GRE and the specialized English Lit test. His lament of course is that of someone who had too much, too many, taken from him all at one time. "Where is that horse now? Where is that rider?....How that time has passed away,
    dark under the cover of night,
    as if it had never been!

    Doug Anderson Devastating line.

    Venkatesan Iyengar The "me" and "thou" are not one and the same.

    Jack Miller As you know, this sonnet is especially dear to me. After thinking about it yet again, I decided to read some criticism of it from various well-known sources. What a fool John Crowe Ransom proved to be on this sonnet, what misguided prudery in his comments.I used to drink on occasion with his brother Bill, who gave up academia to tend The Napoleon House in New Orleans. I admired John Crowe, but prudery got the best of him on this sonnet. Fortunately, there are literary critics who do understand it and write elegantly about it; not that we need a word more than WS wrote.

    Alfred Corn I don't recall what Ransom said. But it's hard to see anything in the sonnet that could prompt a prudish response. A summary?

    Liz Rosenberg bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang.... this one is my favorite sonnet of all. Thanks for reminding me.

    Jack Miller  

    Here is a quote from his analysis. It generated a back and forth over whether the poet is to be pitied or not and about the younger man addressed in the poem and their relationship. I have access to most literary journals, and the range of commentary on the sonnet is notable... "The structure is good, the three quatrains offering distinct yet equivalent figures for the time of life of the unsuccessful and to-be-pitied lover. But the first quatrain is the boldest, and the effect of the whole is slightly anti-climactic. Within this quatrain I think I detect a thing which often characterizes Shakespeare's work within the metaphysical style: he is unwilling to renounce the benefit of his earlier style, which consisted in the breadth of the associations; that is, he will not quite risk the power of a single figure but compounds the figures. I refer to the two images about the boughs. It is one thing to have the boughs shaking against the cold, and in that capacity they carry very well the fact of the old rejected lover; it is another thing to represent them as ruined choirs where the birds no longer sing. The latter is a just representation of the lover too, and indeed a subtler and richer one, but the two images cannot, in logical rigor, co-exist. Therefore I deprecate shake against the cold. And I believe everybody will deprecate sweet. This term is not an objective image at all, but a term to be located at the subjective pole of the experience; it expects to satisfy a feeling by naming it (this is, by just having it) and is a pure sentimentalism."(John Crowe Ransom, Shakespeare at Sonnets).

    Jack Miller His calling the poet an old, rejected lover is absurd. It is just the opposite.

    Alfred Corn Strange misreading. The insistence on objectivity is peculiarly obtuse.

    Bill Tremblay Isn't there also the historical allusion? Henry VIII institutes the Anglican Church. He has the Catholic monasteries and churches sacked for gold monstrances, &c. Churches burned; hence "bare ruined choirs" are not that way from age but from the sword and brand. Which is a figure for a man who's been ravaged. "In me thou seest ..." all these things.

    Jack Miller yes.

    Graham Christian That Ransom! no feeling for poetry at all! Yes, I'm joking.

    Jack Miller Now that I've spent a good part of two days reading articles, essays, and commentary on this and some other of the sonnets, I have to say that I am coming down on the side of silence before such greatness. So much misunderstanding and so many odd interpretations. Still, I just can't resist giving everyone a taste of the commentary. Comment on Sonnets 73 & 74
    Sonnets 73, 74, and 75 are a threesome connected by the ‘but’ of 74 and the ‘so’ of 75. Sonnets 73 and 74 are considered together followed by sonnet 75.
    Because of its lyrical progression of images, sonnet 73 is regarded as one of the great sonnets. Images of late autumn (73.1-4), the twilight of day (73.5-8), and glowing embers (73.9-12) arouse a ‘stronger’ love for life in the youth who realises that, like the aging Poet, he ‘must leave ere long’. But Shakespeare counteracts the idealistic element in sonnet 73 with the greater realism of sonnet 74. Images of autumn, sunset, and fire, give way to images of jail (74.1-4), earth (74.5-8) and worms (74.9-12).
    In sonnet 73, the Poet likens his aging years to autumn with its ‘yellow leaves’ (73.2), the cold wind in the ‘boughs’ (73.3) and evokes the image of choirs of birds now gone from bare branches (73.4). Then he pictures himself in the ‘twilight’ of the day after ‘Sun-set’ (73.6), as ‘black night’ or ‘death’s second self ’ (73. takes away the light.
    The Poet then compares his dying days to the ‘glowing’ fire in which ‘the ashes of his youth doth lie’. He is ‘consumed’ by the fire that once ‘nourished’ his youthful days. Significantly Shakespeare uses a cascade of natural imagery to evoke the relation of aging years to youthful energy. The only hint of ecclesiastical thought occurs in the negative metaphor of ‘ruined choirs’. (Some Christian commentators, beguiled by the artistry of the sonnet, imagine they hear a series of sympathetic religious attributions.)
    In the couplet, as the Poet approaches death, he notes with irony that the youth’s love is made ‘more strong’. The youth, instead, should love the life ‘well’ that he ‘must leave ere long’. The Poet’s quiet acceptance of the idea of death as a natural event should awaken the idealising youth to the natural processes he is inclined to neglect out of fear of death. Throughout sonnet 73 Shakespeare ironically critiques religions that use the psychology of fear.
    Sonnet 74 begins where sonnet 73 left off. The youth is told to be ‘contented’ with the ‘arrest’ that will take the Poet away ‘without all bail’ (74.2). The Poet takes the youth back to the first increase sonnet that set out the logical conditions for contentedness. He adds that his ‘life’ has ‘in this line’ some ‘interest’, which will stay with the youth as a ‘memorial’ (74.4). The reference back to the ‘lines’ of sonnet 18 recalls the logical relation between the lines of descent and the lines of poetry. Without descent there is no poetry.
    So when the youth ‘renews’ his life through increase, which is the interest on the capital of his life, he renews the ‘very part was consecrate to thee’ (74.6). Shakespeare facetiously uses the religious sense of ‘consecrate’ to emphasise that the youth will find true immortality through increase. The ‘earth can have but earth’, which is his ‘due’, because the Poet’s ‘spirit’ is the better part of him (74.. Again the sonnet contextualises religious allusions within the content of the Poet’s natural logic.
    The youth, then, stands to lose only the ‘dregs of life’, or ironically be the ‘prey of worms’ (74.10). The Poet is conquered by time’s ‘knife’ and is too ‘base’ to be ‘remembered’ (74.12). The irony is that religious idealism, which denies the body’s worth during a person’s life, prays to the body like a shrine when it is consigned to the earth.
    In the couplet, the Poet restates the lesson of the increase sonnets and sonnets such as 55. The worth of the Poet’s lines as a ‘memorial’ resides in ‘that which it contains’. The ‘this’ that remains with the youth, recalls the ‘this’ from sonnet 18, where the Poet says ‘so long lives this, and this gives life to thee’ (18.14). The increase sonnets (1 to 14), and the poetry and increase sonnets (15 to 19) insist that, without the lines of increase, the Poet’s lines have no worth. So ‘this’ is the ‘worth’ that Shakespeare Sonnets contain.
    Some commentators interpret ‘this’ as a reference to the sonnet’s ability to confer poetic immortality. But for the Poet, poetic immortality is conditional on the attitude to ‘life’ that the poetry ‘contains’. In sonnet 74, as in sonnet 18, the content of the verse ‘remains’ with the youth only if his lines of descent provide a future audience to read the lines of poetry. The Poet knows this is the only way the ‘spirit’ of any thought will ‘live’ after the body becomes the ‘prey of worms’. The idea is reinforced in sonnet 75, where the Poet says the youth is ‘to my thoughts as food to life’.

    Sonnet Commentaries 70-81

    Jack Miller This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
    To love that well, which thou must leave ere long... Only the most perceptive writers realize that the lover perceives the aging of the poet as a reason to love him all the more strongly, knowing that his love, the poet himself, must leave ere long.

    Jack Miller The sonnet brings to mind, for me, Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, the latter who loved Isherwood so strongly that he drew his portrait over and over until his death.

    •                                                Chris By Don

      Alfred Corn Ah, Jack. If only.

      Edward Nudelman
      In keeping with Jack Miller's citations, here is Berryman's: "The fundamental emotion [in Sonnet 73] is self-pity. Not an attractive emotion. What renders it pathetic, in the good instead of the bad sense, is the sinister diminution of the time concept, quatrain by quatrain. We have first a year, and the final season of it; then only a day, and the stretch of it; then just a fire, built for part of the day, and the final minutes of it; then -- entirely deprived of life, in prospect, and even now a merely objective "that," like a third-person corpse! -- the poet. The imagery begins and continues as visual -- yellow, sunset, glowing -- and one by one these are destroyed; but also in the first quatrain one heard sound, which disappears there; and from the couplet imagery of every kind is excluded, as if the sense were indeed dead, and only abstract, posthumous statement is possible. A year seems short enough; yet ironically the day, and then the fire, makes it in retrospect seem long, and the final immediate triumph of the poem's imagination is that in the last line about the year, line 4, an immense vista is indeed invoked -- that the desolate monasteries strewn over England, sacked in Henry's reign, where 'late' -- not so long ago! a terrible foreglance into the tiny coming times of the poem -- the choirs of monks lifted their little and brief voices, in ignorance of what was coming -- as the poet would be doing now, except that this poem knows. Instinct is here, after all, a kind of thought. This is one of the best poems in English."(John Berryman, The Sonnets)

      Jack Miller Yes, I read this analysis as well. I just can't get past that first line. I don't see this sonnet as self-pity. Even if the last lines are about the youth's love of life, rather than his love of the poet himself (as I see it), where is the pity? It is about mortality, yes; but facing it heroically, tragically, if you will, but not with self-pity. Again, there are several back and forth articles written about whether the poet is to be pitied. I say no, and cling to my romanticism. And yes, Alfred, if only. I know.

      Alfred Corn The ban against self-pity ignores all the great works incorporating it. Besides, do you recall what Bishop's Crusoe said? (Roughly): "Pity like charity begins at home. So the more I felt pity, the more I felt at home."

      Jack Miller Guess I have some more thinking to do about this, and shall.

      Jack Miller After having read so many respected literary journals thanks to Emory, I decided to go ahead and slum it with Wikipedia. Why not see what they have to say. Every time I go to it, expecting little, I am taken aback by what I find. Judge for yourselves: The subject of Sonnet 73 is under debate among many critics. Agreeing that the obvious interpretation of Sonnet 73 forces the reader to face the fatality of life, John Prince says that the most common conclusion reached is that the speaker is telling his listener about his own life and the certainty of death in his near future. After going through a lengthy description that, on the surface, describes the passage of time and the coming of death, he concludes his dissertation by saying that the reader perceives this eminent death and, because he does, he loves the author even more. However, an alternative understanding of the sonnet presented by Prince asserts that the author does not intend to address death, but rather the passage of youth. With this, the topic of the sonnet moves from the speaker’s life to the listener’s life.[13]

      The key to these two interpretations lies in the very last line, “this thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, to love that well which thou must leave ere long”. The question that must be addressed is this: to whom or to what is “that” referring to, the speaker’s life or the reader’s? This alternative interpretation suggests that it refers to the reader’s life and therefore does not concern the death of the author, but rather the loss of youth of the reader. The last clause, which says “which thou must leave ere long”, emphasizes this point, because the reader must eventually leave his youth.[14] Prince explains this by saying:

      “Why, if the speaker is referring to his own life, does he state that the listener must ‘leave’ the speaker's life? If the ‘that’ in the final line does refer to the speaker's life, then why doesn't the last line read ‘To love that well which thou must lose ere long?’ Or why doesn't the action of leaving have as its subject the ‘I,’ the poet, who in death would leave behind his auditor?” [15]

      By understanding the last line to refer to the reader’s life, rather than the speaker, Prince concludes that the sonnet is not referring to death and leaving love, like most would but instead the loss of youth that all must endure.

      Additionally, Frank Bernhard criticizes the metaphors Shakespeare used to describe the passage of time, be it the coming of death or simply the loss of youth. Though lyrical, they are logically off and quite cliché, being the overused themes of seasonal change, sunset, and burn. In fact, the only notably original line is the one concerning leaves, stating that “when yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang, upon those boughs”.[16] Logic would require that few should proceed none; in fact, if the boughs were bare, no leaves would hang. Bernhard argues that Shakespeare did this on purpose, evoking sympathy from the reader as they “wish to nurse and cherish what little is left”, taking him through the logic of pathos – ruefulness, to resignation, to sympathy.[17] This logic, Bernhard asserts, dictates the entire sonnet. Instead of moving from hour, to day, to year with fire, then sunset, then seasons, Shakespeare moves backwards. By making time shorter and shorter, the reader’s fleeting mortality comes into focus, while sympathy for the speaker grows. This logic of pathos can be seen in the images in the sonnet’s three quatrains. Bernhard explains:

      “Think now of the sonnet's three quatrains as a rectangular grid with one row for each of the governing images, and with four vertical columns:
      spring / summer / fall / winter morning / noon / evening / night tree / log / ember / ashes
      These divisions of the images seem perfectly congruous, but they are not. In the year the cold of winter takes up one quarter of the row; in the day, night takes up one half of the row; in the final row, however, death begins the moment the tree is chopped down into logs”.[18]

      This is a gradual progression to hopelessness. The sun goes away in the winter, but returns in the spring; it sets in the evening, but will rise in the morning; but the tree that has been chopped into logs and burned into ashes will never grow again. Bernhard concludes by arguing that the end couplet, compared to the beautifully crafted logic of pathos created prior, is anti-climactic and redundant. The poem’s first three quatrains mean more to the reader than the seemingly important summation of the final couplet.[19]

      Though he agrees with Bernhard in that the poem seems to create two themes, one which argues for devotion from a younger lover to one who will not be around much longer, and another which urges the young lover to enjoy his fleeting youth, James Schiffer asserts that the final couplet, instead of being unneeded and unimportant, brings the two interpretations together. In order to understand this, he explains that the reader must look at the preceding sonnets, 71 and 72, and the subsequent sonnet, 74. He explains:

      “The older poet may desire to ‘love more strong’ from the younger man but feels, as 72 discloses, that he does not deserve it. This psychological conflict explains why the couplet hovers equivocally between the conclusions ‘to love me’, which the persona cannot bring himself to ask for outright, and ‘to love your youth’, the impersonal alternative exacted by his self-contempt”.[20]

      By reading the final couplet in this manner, the reader will realize that the two discordant meanings of the final statement do in fact merge to provide a more complex impression of the author's state of mind. Furthermore, this successfully puts the focus of the reader on the psyche of the “I”, which is the subject of the following sonnet 74.

      Buddhist scholars look to this sonnet to illustrate that the nature of love lies in the awareness of life's impermanence; a lesson often learned too late. Ultimately, the one who must be loved is ourselves as we march past all the warning signs, into the black night. The curious line 'death's second self' strikes at the duality between the objective perception of death in others and the ego's interpretation of that event. In a sense, this sonnet also reaches back into pagan images of pyres and sacrifice, as well as reaching into a future that, instead of exaltations of heaven's glory, urges the reader to take responsibility for their own relationship with reality. - Austin Sirch

      Jack Miller

      Sonnet 73 - Wikipedia, the free

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