We attempt to balance out the bawdy and bluest of the Bard with a few of his nicer Sonnets.
Featuring Sonnets 17, 18, 19 and 29.
Transcript follows below.
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You’re listening to this pod, so you’re likely familiar with Patrick Stewart‘s recent “a sonnet a day” initiative, where he’s working his way through performing all 154 of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.
For the last week, I’ve been summarising each of those daily poems for my wife, who is incredibly patient with me, but less so with Shakespearean language and idiom.
Unfortunately, Sir Patrick is currently up to Sonnet 95, and this part of the sequence, while containing some beautiful works, is also deeply paranoid and potentially anxiety-inducing.
So with far too much context there, I’d like to share a few of the more uplifting and just generally lovely sonnets from Shakespeare’s sequence, along with what I’ve been calling the Lisa Versions.
I’m certain I’ve shared Sonnet 18 before, and it’s the best known of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but I’d like to start with it and 17.
The early part of Shakespeare’s sequence is an appeal for the speaker’s beloved “young man” to procreate and in doing so immortalise his beauty.
In a precedent that will continue through the sequence, the speaker then attempts to find an alternate solution: what if the young man does not have children? How can his beauty be immortalised?
Sonnet 17 is an attempt to impose a dual solution, and might be seen as a bridge from “go forth and multiply” to “I’m an amazing writer, I can just preserve you here -” but ideally, let’s do both and build in some redundancy.
Sonnet 18, as the most famous of the sonnets today, is both signifier and signified: it is the single enduring image of Shakespeare’s young man sequence, which is precisely what it posits.
And I can’t stop there, because 19 is also an amazing piece.
To recap, we’ve gone from “have children to keep your beauty in this world,” to “well, my poems can help too,” to perhaps a sudden realisation that genetics aren’t always predictable, so let’s double down on the poetry.
In 19, we again go a step further: now that 18 has established a permanent
“save point” for the beloved, the speaker gets cocky and decides to taunt Time, placing the beloved explicitly beyond its reach.
I’ll conclude this episode with Sonnet 29, in which the speaker attempts to describe the disparity between the value of being loved and of all worldly aspirations. It celebrates the power of love to grant transcendence, and to fundamentally and utterly reframe the world for the better. Sonnet 25 follows a similar theme, but is more militaristic, and while the tone is darker, I find this one more heartfelt.