The Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand (SCGNZ) has been running a series of competitions, and I’m really pleased to have won second prize in their sonnet competition for my piece From The Dark Lady.
My winning sonnet and other entries follow. Two draw on Shakespeare’s characters, and the other two take four “quotable lines” from his work and shape sonnets around them.
This first piece was written from the perspective of one of the addressees of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the titular Dark Lady.
From The Dark Lady
I cannot quite decide which fate is worse:
To have you make presumption of my sin,
Or bear your masochistic little verse,
Ostensibly to worm your way within.
Were I to lesser station given birth,
Perhaps I’d deign rejoinder to your “wit”
With puerile intimations of your worth:
“How short, how thin—how ever will it fit?”
But, rest assured, I’m flattered by your rhyme,
Propriety, you see, requires grace;
So should we meet at some unwitting time,
That isn’t raw contempt upon my face.
Aye, Will, you might have plucked a willing rose,
Had less been on the page, and more inside your hose.
My next sonnet borrowed Lysander’s words from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The course of true love never did run smooth,” and Friar Lawrence’s “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.” from Romeo and Juliet. This one was the most difficult to write, because I had a clear vision for the piece that was a little too ambitious and autobiographical, and ended up having to pare the concept down.
The course of true love never did run smooth
Since on Her toes thy clumsy footstep fell,
And trying this impression to improve
Then trod upon Her other foot as well.
Thy missteps were too numerous to count,
And ignorance in similar degree,
If offered love of any small amount
You’d magnify it exponentially;
Then reeling in despair—of thy own make—
Would jealousy comport you to cliché
And even thy convictions would forsake,
Until that love in tatters tore away.
We seldom love well, till our youth is past:
Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast.
The following piece is the first sonnet I wrote in this sequence, and it provides a right of reply from Shakespeare’s Young Man, the other addressee of his sonnets. Like the poem From The Dark Lady, it extends from Shakespeare’s own bawdy tone.
From The Young Man
These centuries have passed, but I remain
Ensorcelled by your hubris on the page,
And where you scribbled pseudonyms for shame,
I suffer each indignity of age.
You wrote of youth, committing me to ink,
Ideas, you calculated, would endure;
But did you ever hesitate and think
Your motivation might have been impure?
The scholars do not worship at my thighs—
My name, my face, my self remain unknown—
But rote recite your shittiest of sighs,
While I am just a guy you might have blown.
Will I forgive who took away my name,
Imperfectly you loved me, but you loved me, all the same.
This final piece takes a new approach to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2, starting with the same first line, “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,” and sticking as obstinately as possible to that military metaphor and its implications. After much deliberation, I took “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad” from Antonio in The Merchant of Venice as a fitting, if not uplifting, conclusion to my final couplet.
Revise and Conquer
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
They shan’t expect thy forehead to attack—
Descending in a weak, compliant bow,
Then striking up to claim thy beauty back!
Mere Time is a pretender to the throne,
Her armies flee in regimented beat
Before the dread advance of thee alone;
Upon the faintest fancy of thy feet.
This coward isn’t sanctioned in Her war
Yet takes immoral plunder as Her due:
The colour from thy tresses as we snore
And memories that we together grew…
I have a plan… That is… How odd! I had…
In sooth, I know not why I am so sad.