When I delved into William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2 I speculated about poem’s assertion that having children was a remedy against the despair of getting old and dying. As I ponder Sonnet 3 it seems that Shakespeare is developing this concept further.
Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest,
Now is the time that face should form another,
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother.
For where is she so fair whose uneared womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?
Thou art thy mother’s glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime;
So thou through windows of thine age shalt see,
Despite of wrinkles, this thy golden time.
But if thou live remembered not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.
Here we have a look at the connection and opposition between sex and death or creation and destruction. This often talked and written about association runs through several of the world’s cultures in the form of religion, literature, art, etc. Several centuries later, Freud, who did not originate, but developed this theory extensively, argued that this was a natural, built - in part of the human psyche. I am somewhat skeptical of Feud’s claim though I do not completely disregard the possibility. Either way it seems that Shakespeare has tapped into and has built an aesthetic castle based upon this ubiquities concept.
In the above, the “tillage of thy husbandry” stands a defense against “the tomb Of his self-love.” The act of procreation is life’s compensation for the cold reality of human mortality. By having children, the object of the verse can triumph over the inevitable. Here Shakespeare seems to be illustrating that procreation is stronger then death.
Shakespeare conveys all this with language and imagery that is sublime. Of course one can put aside all the theorizing and speculation and just enjoy the words. I cannot wait to take a close look at more of these little aesthetic gems.
My commentary on the additional Sonnets:
Brain, I'm glad you're continuing to discuss the sonnets, they certainly deserve to be savored and lead to discussion.
Carrying my father home.
His photograph pressed between the pages
of a notebook as if he were some flower
cut and kept for the memory, but as
with all memories locked into pages
and books, unless someone records the details,
the name, the place, a record of the event,
then things get lost to the linearity of time.
I am to carry my father.
I am my father’s son.
I am my father’s father.
I carry him in my cells,
in my pages, in my mouth,
In every word I do not say.
He is the absence of silence.
The solitude of noise.
He is the road that leads out
Of the city to the country.
I am the one who takes
the road both directions.
I shall root my sonnets out and read these in next few days ,all the best stu
Hi Suko - I have been having fun with these and I think that I will keep it up.
Hi Parish - I was not familiar with that John Siddique work but it is definitely relevant here. In a way, it addresses same question as Shakespeare does but from the point of view of the progeny.
Hi Stu - Glad to here that I am helping to inspire!
Thanks for the insightful discussion of another sonnet; death and creation and more. Your commentary reminded me of one of Wallace Steven's most famous poems with some thoughts on death that, hopefully, are not too far afield from your analysis, but represent part of the multitude of discourse about humanity and death.
"She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.”
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves."
Stanza V from "Sunday Morning" - Wallace Stevens.
Those are some great lines. I often wonder just how much of our spark and creativity is driven by the awareness of our own mortality. Of course it very much relates to Shakespeare's view.
A beautiful sonnet, no doubt. I don't know about preserving myself by having children. I've never felt that need. But I do know having my son made me realize that I could love someone more than I love myself.
Love those poems by Stevens and Siddique. I'm going to look those authors up.
Hi Sharon - While there are many reasons to have children, I do not totally understand that which is argued here.
The works shared by Parish and James are good. So much to read so little time!
"Die single and thine image dies with thee"
He does seem to be saying that by having children one can leave a legacy and in a way, live on after death.
Happy Sunday :)
Hi Naida - As I commented in one of my previous posts on the Sonnets, Shakespeare seems so much more definitive here as compared with his other works. The entire legacy thing is a prime example of that definitiveness.
Beautiful, seemingly simple, and yet so complex. Thanks
Hi Guy - Indeed that is one of the things that makes Shakespeare so appealing.
It seems the tradition of so many cultures in the past - relying on children to carry on family lines. Nowadays, it doesn't seem that important.
Hi Harvee - One aspect of this Sonnet that I did not ponder is how times have changed. Values and traditions were indeed different and they undoubtedly effected Shakespeare's view.
What a great idea for a series of blog posts! Shakespeare's sonnets are so rich, I'm going to really enjoy this. Thanks!
Hi Ryan - Thanks! Amazing how much is packed in just 20 lines or so.
I have the complete works of Shakespeare on one of my shelves but cannot read it the way I can other books. This is certainly thought provoking and in small snippets like this I think I could really enjoy it. Thanks for sharing :)
Hi Lainy - Thats the thing about the Sonnets, one can take them in little bits.
It really took me years to be able to read Shakespeare and achieve relatively good comprehension.
Well thanks to you I have my regular poetry dose. :)
I always want to read more poetry but don't manage more than a few a month.
These poems are not so easy for us non native speakers. I might not have gotten that he speaks about having children, so thanks for the introduction.
Hi Caroline - If you read a few a month that is more then I usually read, at least before I begun this little series of posts.
Poetry can indeed be difficult especially if one does not understand the language. Also, while I would not completely dismiss translations, I wonder just how much one can say that a translated poem is the original.
I have a book of translated poems by Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet. I read a few every now and then and they are fairly short, one page or so.
The Way Spain Was
Taut and dry Spain was,
a day's dream of dull sound,
a plain, an eagle's eyrie, a silence
below the lashing weather.
This was wonderful to read, Brian. Haven't read a Shakespeare sonnet for years, but there's so much here to grapple with.
It's interesting what he says about parents looking at their children and seeing their younger selves. In those days, of course, that was the only way - now we have photos and home videos and a million other ways of recapturing those "golden times".
I do think that having children is still a way of preserving yourself, fighting against mortality. I don't have any and don't plan to, but I can see the attraction.
The other way of becoming immortal, of course, is to write a sonnet that people are still reading and blogging about almost 500 years later!
Hi Harvee - That is a great poem. I want to take ssome time and read Neruda,
I need to read more poetry. As great as the likes Shakespeare, Whitman and Frost are is, there is a lot more bout there.
Hi Andrew - Thanks for the good word.
Indeed leaving great art is a way to achieving some permanence. Under the comment section of my post on Sonnet 2, Jane, of Reading, Writing, Working and Playing suggested that Shakespeare was actually alluding to literary works as opposed to children in these sonnets.
Ah, that's very interesting - makes me read it in a whole new way!
Hi Andrew - There are so many different ways that one can look at these works.
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