Probably he won’t get a cake. Or candles. Though it is his birthday…
And if he were to have a cake, it’d probably not be the kind I want…or if it were the sort I favour, he’d probably not like it. Tastes have changed over the past 400 years…at least in terms of food. And cake.
But what hasn’t ever changed is the sesquisuperlative beauty of his writing. His super-human understanding of the cravings and hopes and fracturings of the human heart.
When I was in school–many milennia ago–I had a teacher who assigned the copying out ten times of a sonnet(s) by this poet and playwright to those who were naughty. Or to those who didn’t do their homework assignments. I wrote out a lot of sonnets in those days. (You can guess why.)
And that teacher gave me the greatest gift I could ever have had. He caused to be etched on my mind and soul and senses the most perfect use of the English language.
There’s the intellectual daring with the language. The writer’s ability to break all the rules about not repeating a word, turn it on its silly head, and show us how brilliantly he plays with words, as in this from Sonnet 43:
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
That’s just ruddy cheek, that is.
And there’s this–Sonnet 57–about which I’ve been thinking a great deal recently. It was in my mind constantly when I was writing some segments of Of Honest Fame.
Being your slave what should I do but tend
Upon the hours, and times of your desire?
I have no precious time at all to spend;
Nor services to do, till you require.
Nor dare I chide the world without end hour,
Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you,
Nor think the bitterness of absence sour,
When you have bid your servant once adieu;
Nor dare I question with my jealous thought
Where you may be, or your affairs suppose,
But, like a sad slave, stay and think of nought
Save, where you are, how happy you make those.
So true a fool is love, that in your will,
Though you do anything, he thinks no ill.
Because, you see, he’s not just teaching how to use the language, how to let the cadences, rhythm and assonance fall upon the ear and heart like music, how to listen, he teaches us how to love and how to recognise love. Not the coy Romcom “Isn’t he a darling?” love, but the real thing, the emotion so strong it’s almost too powerful and raw for one to bear.
And there’s his self-abnegation and modesty too. His sadness that however utterly brilliant, witty, wonderful he is, he cannot be whatever it is his love desires. As in Sonnet 76:
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O! know sweet love I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
Anyway. He taught me. And I owe him an everlasting paean of gratitude.
Happy Birthday W.S. And whereever you are, bless you and thank you.