Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sonnet 109 by William Shakespeare

As I was mulling over what to post today for our Wednesday bit o' the Bard, it occurred to me to wonder if any Shakespeare is quoted in Persuasion, in light of my ongoing series, A Winter's Persuasion. (The answer appears to be "no" – Austen pretty much restricted herself to the then-modern Romantic poets when writing her last completed novel.) So my second level of inquiry is which of Shakespeare's sonnets might make a good fit for Persuasion despite not being mentioned.

And so it was that I came to select Sonnet 109, which seems to me a good fit for Wentworth (ultimately), although we aren't yet to the end of Persuasion , where its applicability becomes clearer. For those of you who've not read Persuasion, you ought to know that Captain Wentworth was once engaged to Anne Elliot, who broke it off with him at the urging of others. At the point of the story where we are just now, Captain Wentworth is back in the neighborhood where he's busy not-talking to Anne. However, by the time we reach the end, Wentworth will not only be speaking to Anne, but will be declaring his constant, unwavering love.

Sonnet 109
by William Shakespeare

O, never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify;
As easy might I from my self depart
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie.
That is my home of love. If I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that myself bring water for my stain.
Never believe, though in my nature reigned
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good.
  For nothing this wide universe I call,
  Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all.


Form and analysis: A Shakespearean sonnet, of course, written in iambic pentameter and rhymed ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The volta, or "turn", in this sonnet comes in the 9th line at the start of the sentence "Never believe . . . " The first eight lines mention that although he's been away, his love has always been with the beloved. The next four encourage the beloved not to believe that his love could ever have been supplanted despite outside temptation. And there's an additional, further turning in the final couplet to an affirmation that the beloved is the most important thing in the world to the speaker.

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