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Happy birthday, Billy!

Today is the anniversary of Shakespeare's baptism, so it's usually celebrated as his birthday (not that baptism and birth were necessarily done the same day, but I digress). Here's his take on daffodils, which goes in a completely different, one might say "more earthy" direction than Wordsworth's poem that I posted yesterday. It's from The Winter's Tale, Act IV, scene 2.


When daffodils begin to peer,
  With heigh! The doxy over the dale,
Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year;
  For the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.

The white sheet bleaching on the hedge,
  With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing!
Doth set my pugging tooth on edge;
  For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.

The lark, that tirra-lyra chants,
  With heigh! with heigh! the thrush and the jay,
Are summer songs for me and for my aunts,
  While we lie tumbling in the hay.

Discussion: It's written in cross-rhymed quatrains using four stressed syllables per line. It's meant to be a bawdy song, and would have been sung by the character Autolycus, a (somewhat charming) thief and pickpocket.

Understanding why this song is bawdy requires knowing the meanings of words like doxy (a mistress or lover or, quite likely, a prostitute). There's also a reference to the ancient spring ritual of Beltane, where in some communities a virgin would be designated as the May Queen, who would lose her virginity to the Green Man or Jack-o'-the-Green as a means of symbolizing fertility and the rebirth of the world.

Autolycus's song talks about the red blood reigning over winter's pale, a reference to the blood from loss of virginity, and to the white sheet bleaching in the sun after the act. The reference to a "pugging tooth" has been variously construed to mean "thieving" (a deduction based on Autolycus being a thief, and on saying, later in the same monologue, that he traffics in sheets) or "grinding" (pugging being a word used to describe grinding mortar). I have to say, I come down on the side of "grinding", complete with sexual connotation to the term, and that his later reference to "trafficking in sheets" is him getting busy between the sheets. This seems to be supported by the next lines, which refer to him and his "aunts . . . tumbling in the hay," where "aunts" is an word meaning prostitutes, and to the overall dual nature of the poem, bawdy puns being a favorite of Shakespeare (and his audiences).





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Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
angeladegroot
Apr. 23rd, 2015 04:37 pm (UTC)
It seems we were on the same flower wave length this morning. Great minds, great writers . . .
angeladegroot
Apr. 23rd, 2015 04:42 pm (UTC)
Poppies are another of my favorite flowers. Do you know any good poppy poems?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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