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Sonnet 98 by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare wrote a particular form of sonnet using three cross-rhymed quatrains (ABAB CDCD EFEF) plus a rhymed couplet (GG). He used iambic pentameter (taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM). He was not the first or only poet to employ this particular sonnet form, which was all the rage during the Elizabethan era, but because he wrote so many, and wrote them well, and (perhaps more importantly), because they have survived, the sonnets in the form he used are known as "Shakespearean sonnets."

Today, here's his Sonnet 98, which seems seasonally appropriate to me:

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April dress'd in all his trim
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them while they grew;
Nor did I wonder at the lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
These were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
  Yet seem'd it winter still, and, you away,
  As with your shadow I with these did play.

Let's break it down for a moment, shall we? In the first quatrain (4 lines), the poet says "It's April, and spring is busting out all over, and I've been away from you." In the next two quatrains, he says "Neither the birds nor flowers put me in mind of summer, and I haven't been swept up in wild admiration of them, because while they were pretty, they were to me just weak imitations of you." The third quatrain is a bit of a turn from the first and second in that it discusses how he was too occupied missing the absent beloved to celebrate the beauty of nature. And the final couplet brings it all home, and gives us the poet's bottom line: "Even though I can see spring around me, it's still winter for me because you are away."

How swoonily romantic is that? Oh so very, in my opinion. Would that we all had someone writing us love poems like this.

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 12th, 2009 11:52 am (UTC)
Sigh! So lovely, and yes, exceedingly romantic.
Jun. 12th, 2009 02:06 pm (UTC)
That Shakespeare sure could write!
Jun. 12th, 2009 02:45 pm (UTC)
You know how Folger has that wonderful set of Shakespeare books where they have the text of the play on the right and the modern day "translation" of certain words on the left?
You would totally give them a run for their money if you started getting these into print.
Jun. 12th, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
I recently purchased quite a number of the Folger books - oh, 14 or so, really - including the one for the sonnets, which has translations of some words on the facing page. I also bought the No Fear Shakespeare version of the sonnets in order to review it for Guys Lit Wire. It has the original Shakespeare sonnet on the left, and a modern day translation on the right. On the one hand, the translation tells you the surface meaning of the text; on the other, it omits the nuances of the original, which frequently operates using two and sometimes three or more layers of meaning.
Jun. 12th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
See - this is where you would come in - you can highlight those nuances that the big guides miss. In college, when I was doing these plays, I would have killed for guides like the ones you could come up with. I'm sure there are quite a few theatres, especially smaller community ones that don't have professional dramaturges, that would do the same.
Jun. 12th, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
O to be called a dramaturge!

That made my day.
Jun. 13th, 2009 12:39 pm (UTC)
Great post, Kelly, and yes, I agree -- that sonnet is so lovely and romantic.
Jun. 13th, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC)
The problem I have when I read things like this - or like the letters that Jane Austen wrote to her sister - is that I find myself wishing I had someone writing poems like this (or letters like that) for me!
Jun. 13th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)
This also reminds me of a short story I wrote years ago, called, "While You Were Gone, Spring Came In."
Shakespeare said it better, no surprise.
Jun. 13th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Shakespeare is pretty awesome. But I love that title of yours!
Jun. 14th, 2009 09:45 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing this (and your paraphrase ;). It makes me want to get out my volume of his sonnets and just read...Two summers ago I remember sitting down to write in this form of sonnet. So much fun. Ahh, but no one can do it better than Will....
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC)
Perhaps no one can do it better than Will, but I believe others can do it almost as well. His magic lies in his word choices, many of which have double and even triple meanings. To be able to play with the language in that way seems to have been nearly effortless for him, but I believe with some practice, more of us could pull it off.
Jun. 15th, 2009 02:37 am (UTC)
Maybe we all should get practicing. :-) I'd like to believe this, too. I think it's both practice and a letting go of sorts. And a spirit of play seems to be important as well...
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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