I’ve always tried to envision Shakespeare’s sonnet-writing as a series of episodic montages. In one such montage, he would be frantically pacing back and forth, hands behind his back, quill pen tucked behind his ear. Other times, I imagine him in drunken fits of inspiration, embracing trees and crying out “Oh, arborous sight, I pray to thee, most hallowed of divinities, COME FORTH, LOOK AT THIS TREE!”, seconds before blacking out in a puddle of his own saliva and bile.
William Shakespeare’s sonnets have probably made women faint quicker than any starch-tightened corset could. That sorcerer of sonnets could have wiped England clean of her women with a mere flick of his silver tongue! A mere spasm of his quill, no less!
Historically, Shakespeare’s sonnets (all 154 of them) have been neatly placed upon the highest and most polished shelves of iconic poetry, and they still continue to grace every library, book store and sweaty palm of any pubescent high school drama student.
But, what is a sonnet? Well, according to verified online sources (Wikipedia), sonnets were invented by a Sicilian poet named Giacomo da Lentini in ye olde 13th century. The word “sonnet” derives from the Italian sonetto, or “little song”, and were, of course, popularized by Shakespeare just three centuries later. How vintage.
And so, as I am but a greenhorn to the sonnet game, here is where I shall review Sonnet 1 .
Shakespeare’s first sonnet was something I just had to read three or four times (maybe five times) repeatedly, since I was getting the feeling that its message was that of conservation of beauty in death and decay (embalming?), or poetically immortalizing beauty through death itself. Lines 1 through 6 of Sonnet 1 are:
“From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self substantial fuel,”
Obsession of youth or fear of lost youth? From the first part of this sonnet, I seem to get the air of a man’s attraction to a woman’s beauty and beauty alone, solely for his own satisfaction and sexual desire (“Feed’st thy light’s flame with self substantial fuel”). Yes, his “tender heir” might have beared his memory, a probable alternative for mutual affection. But, in the end, the man is but a slave to the young woman’s gaze, the “bright eyes” that could have shone from fear and nonreciprocal love.
Eh. It’s just a theory.
Lines 7-12, the last part of the sonnet are:
“Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak’st waste in niggarding.”
According to my own poetical thinking, Shakespeare is now addressing the young woman, a victim of her own conscious suppression (“Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel”). This same conscious suppression and lack of voice ultimately leads her to her demise (“Within thine own bud buriest thy content”), an ultimate and long-awaited freedom which is solely succeeded in death.
Again, another one of my theorized interpretations.
In summation, I enjoyed this sonnet because it made me think and feel, rather than think alone. Shakespeare’s first of his 154 sonnets gives me the impression that Shakespeare, in reality, was a man who valued a woman’s voice and pitied the scarcity of it as well.