Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sonnet 75 by William Shakespeare

It being Wednesday, it's time for the Bard. And it being the day before Thanksgiving here in the United States, a day known for its feasting and gluttony, it's time for Sonnet 75, in which Shakespeare uses metaphors based in food (and gluttony) and in wealth (the hoarding of) - but more on that after the poem.

Sonnet 75
by William Shakespeare

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure.
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starvèd for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had or must from you be took.
  Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
  Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

About the form: Why, it's a Shakespearean sonnet of course. Written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG, as per usual.

Analysis: In the first four lines, he introduces to us his two metaphors - You're as necessary to me as food is to life or rain is to the earth, and thinking about you is the same sort of peaceless situation as a miser has with his wealth. In the next four, he explains that miser thing more - sometimes a miser enjoys his hoard, but at others, he frets and worries that he'll lose his fortune over time; similarly, he can't decide whether he'd rather keep his beloved at home and to himself, or be seen and admired by the world at large.

The turn, or volta, turns up in the third set of four lines (beginning with "Sometime all full with feasting on your sight"), where he returns to his food analogy: Sometimes I'm glutted with you, sometimes I'm starved (i.e., sometimes I see you a lot and/or get a lot of attention from you, and othertimes, not so much); either way, the poet has no delight except what is given to him by his beloved. It's not much of a turn, really - in some ways, it's just a further expansion of his earlier topics. That said, he does switch from simply saying "it's like food, or rain, or miserliness" and starts to talk about it on a far more personal level, and in a way that explores various degrees of love, longing or obsession (depending on how you want to read the poem).

The closing couplet takes the turn that much further (or harder, if you prefer), saying, in essence, "because of you I take turns missing you or having too much of you all day, depending on whether you are here or gone". Only he has, of course, returned to his food metaphor with his use of the idea of gluttony.

Between the tradition of spending time with family - and perhaps too much time with at least some family - on Thanksgiving and the tradition of eating (or in many cases, overeating), this poem seemed just right to me today. That said, I hope you'll all remember this old adage: "All things in moderation." Then again, perhaps you prefer its opposite: "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess." (That last one is from Oscar Wilde.)

Kiva - loans that change lives

No comments: