July 14th, 2010

Shakespeare

Sonnet 43 by William Shakespeare

Today, a slightly tricky sonnet from the Bard. It's slightly tricky because Shakespeare decided to double up some of his words, which makes the reading trickier. I had to read this one twice in order to think about, since the first reading involved stumbling when I hit lines like "Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,/How would thy shadow's form form happy show". It's sort of "standard" Shakespearean construction, and folks who are at least conversant in a language other than English (the kind where objects sometimes come before verbs, or adjectives come after their nouns, which is most of them at some point or another) may find it easier to parse than folks who only know modern English, but I promise you that twice through will have you reading it more smoothly and understanding at least the gist of it: Shakespeare's beloved Fair Youth is away, and he has been dreaming about him and wishing he were back again.

Sonnet 43
by William Shakespeare

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessèd made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
  All days are nights to see till I see thee,
  And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.


Form: Shakespearean sonnet, of course, written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The volta or "turn" comes in the ninth line, when Shakespeare stops talking about what he sees in dreams and starts addressing the "what if" of the loved one's return and the effect it would have on the Bard. The final couplet turns a bit farther in and sums up the point of the entire poem.

Analysis: The first four lines sets up the situation: My eyes see most clearly when I'm awake, but there's nothing good to see (because the Fair Youth is gone). When I dream, however, I see you clearly.

The next four lines expand on his dreams: I see you in my dreams, and your shadow (the remembered image) is so bright. How much more would your actual person ("thy shadow's form") shine clearly in the daytime, since your remembered image shines so much in the dark!

The next four lines talk about how awestruck the poet would be at seeing the Fair Youth again in the daytime, given the feelings that seeing the Fair Youth in dreams has on him. The final couplet is undoubtedly a bit of hyperbole, but oh, the swoony goodness of it: "All days are nights to see till I see thee,/ And nights bright days when dreams do show me thee."

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