After long night at Anfield, still slowly reading that Shakespeare Sonnet

lfc sevilla.JPG
Moments before the game started, when all seemed well

LFC V Sevilla  was a long night on Wednesday, in the seocond half time slowed almost to a stop. This meant I didn’t go to bed til nearly midnight, and not going to bed til nearly midnight meant I didn’t wake up early yesterday. My writing time was eaten up by care-charmer sleep and though I did still have a little time before work, I wanted to go swimming. So it seems a  long time since I started reading Sonnet 44 by William Shakespeare.  Thus time expands and contracts, though the minute hand moves at the same speed.

Reading back over Wednesday’s post I see I’ve only really written about two lines, which is odd because in my memory I’d done quite a lot.  All this makes me think about time and depth.

The Gutenburg Elegies (1994) is  an early piece of thinking  about  the damage digital technology would wreak on the act of book reading, which Birketts posits as one of  the cornerstones of humanism. I think I’ve got my copy in work, so can’t quote from it directly but  one of the things Sven Birketts thinks about in the collection of essays is deep reading – the reading that took place when people only had one book – typically, The Bible. Birketts imagines a woman in a rural village reading that  book every week  for her entire life.  Not a wide reader, but a deep one. I remember Jeanette Winterson writing in Why Be Happy that her mother would read the Bible to  her every night and  when she got to the end they’d start again at the beginning. I’m not saying that was a good thing, but it was a deep thing and that  immersion, saturation,  in a rich and complex language helped create a language-rich inner life and make Jeanette a writer.

I wonder if less might be more? Does it matter if a whole Shared Reading session is taken up by the depth of a few lines?  I don’t think so. The important thing is find the places of depth and to learn to feel at ease there. Well, so I excuse my own slowness. So back to the poem:

SONNET LXIV (44)

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

I was saying that  it’s helpful to read the whole thing, get a sense of it, see where the punch is (‘That Time will come and take my love away.’) and then to look at the poem in terms of units of meaning – here  in clusters of two or four lines.

Other things to look at as you read and just note – line endings – what are they doing? punctuation – what is it telling us about  the geometry of the poem? Rhymes – see them? and if you had a red marker pen to pick out the key words,  killer words/thoughts – where would you mark?

All that kind of  noticing  goes on semi-unconsciously as I read the poem through and the depth of  my reading experience  partly depends on noticing as many of those  pieces. A good reading would mean that as much of the poem is brought into consciousness as possible.

Here I  pick up  at lines 3&4:

When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;

As in the opening couplet, Shakespeare is  thinking of  ferocious destruction. Why ferocious? ‘Down-razed’, ‘mortal rage’. Brass is a  strong metal  and it is subject to  mortal rage.. mortal meaning human or mortal meaning deathly –  it isn’t that we can smash brass up, but rather that brass is subject, like everything else, to destruction by time.

The next four lines hang together in terms of meaning though they retain the same structural pattern set out in lines 1-4: two pairs of couplets. But before I look at  that structure, I want to just get the rough meaning:

When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;

This is the third ‘when’ of the sonnet –  I feel Shakespeare is finding examples of this destruction or change everywhere – he’s giving three examples but he might give three hundred. Much of the language is about fighting, this isn’t the universe melting into itself and becoming one.  Defaced, cost, outworn, down-razed, slave, rage, and now ‘hungry’, ‘advantage’ and ‘win’. We’re in a fight. Ocean and land cost each other – one can’t win unless the other loses. Whenever the is ‘store’  there is also ‘loss’,  wherever ‘loss’ , there is also ‘store’.  The semi-colon at the end of the line hints that another thought is growing out of the thought we have just experienced.

And here it is, marked by a full stop – we’ve reached the end of the bout.

When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That Time will come and take my love away.

A fourth ‘when’  – so that I am feeling, this seems a universal truth. It is everywhere, this ‘interchange of state’, one thing won only at the cost of another. But thinking back to the instances of destruction in the opening four lines,  it may not always be interchange. State itself may be  ‘confounded to decay’. ‘State’ is a brilliant word here, almost as if it  means ‘matter’,  but bigger than that, perhaps. Would ‘what is’  be an adequatetranslation? Not just stuff, but also being? Everything subject to Time’s undoing.

And ‘ruin’ – my god, that’s strong. Looking upon the universal tendency to ‘ruin’ (which physicists might later call entropy?) Shakespeare is taught to ‘ruminate’. There is a  stunning sound relation between ‘ruin’ and ‘ruminate’, to do with the long  sound ‘ru’- as if ruminate contains or holds ruin. You see it over and over. You can’t help but think. Oddly, after all that destruction, a calm descends.

Suddenly everything goes simple. There’s no violent language now. Just clear knowledge:

That Time will come and take my love away.

I’m going to read the last two lines tomorrow – so as not to rush them.

 

 

2 thoughts on “After long night at Anfield, still slowly reading that Shakespeare Sonnet

  1. sheelaghg September 15, 2017 / 8:31 am

    Love this. Don’t remember reading this sonnet but I will now. just right for this morning.

  2. drjanedavis September 17, 2017 / 9:40 pm

    thank for reading! I love it when people take the poems away to read !

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