Saturday, January 10, 2015

William Shakespeare Sonnet Number 8

From time to time I will be posting commentary on Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing;
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”

The theme of encouraging the “Fair Youth” to marry and have children continues in this sonnet. However, a slightly different approach from that of the earlier sonnets is taken. Here, the imagery that Shakespeare uses is related to music. The “Fair Youth” is told that he cannot enjoy “well-tuned sounds.” The reason for this unfortunate reality is that beauty, in the form of music, is chiding the sonnet’s subject because the subject has not taken a wife and had children yet. Specifically, the melody, as strings “Strikes each in each by mutual ordering,” is compared to the beauty embodied by a small family.

In my posts on the previous Sonnets, I have observed that the argument presented to the “Fair Youth,” at least to my modern sensibilities, ranges from the unconventional to the odd. The subject of the sonnets is cajoled to marry and procreate essentially for two reasons. First, he is advised that he can live on for posterity through his offspring and thus, in a way, cheat age and mortality. Second, he is chided that the world should not be denied the glorious results that would be embodied by his decedents.

This sonnet seems to represent a shift. Here, we have the “Fair Youth” exhorted to marry and to have children for what seems to me as more conventional or understandable reasons. Here the beauty inherent in the art form of music is compared with the beauty inherent in having a family.

Appropriately, I find the lines of this sonnet particularly pleasing and beautiful, even in comparison to several of the previous sonnets in the sequence. This one seems to exude warmth not apparent in the earlier verse. The aesthetic joy that is created by music seems to be a fitting, or at least understandable, comparison to the joy that the subject will presumably feel and display when he finds a spouse and has a child.

If we look at the sonnets in chronological order, their “voice” has implored the “Fair Youth” to have children by using flattery, guilt and now an appeal to the subject’s sense of beauty and joy. As I read through these short poems, this one is among my favorites so far.

My commentary on additional Sonnets:


Suko said...

What an interesting "take" on this sonnet! I'm not sure if I tuned this out (ahem) when I studied Shakespeare, or if I simply forgot about this comparison, but it makes sense. Terrific commentary, Brian Joseph!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko - There are a lot of Sonnets and it is really difficult to remember them all.

I am also guilty of having done a lot of tuning out when I was in school.

JacquiWine said...

Thanks for posting your thoughts on these sonnets, Brian. I'm not at all familiar with this area of Shakespeare's work so I feel I'm learning something from your pieces.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jacqui- One nice thing about looking at these Sonnets like this is that everyone can see and read the work easily and quickly.

James said...

While his appeal to music and the warmth of his message has some charm, it is not enough for me. I remain unconvinced. Yet your commentary is excellent as always.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi James- I do wonder what the voice of the Sonnet is trying to say. I agree that it is not vey convincing. But perhaps it is better to look at this as a character study.

Sharon Wilfong said...

You know, I've been lately thinking about our current culture and how we've seemed (at least in some circles such as movies pop music etc.) to have disconnected sex with its basic function: procreation. And it is something to be celebrated! Have a great week, Brian and thanks for inspiring me to read Shakespeare's sonnets.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - That is actually an insightful point that I have not thought about. Times have changed.

Though often a critic of certain aspects of current popular culture I am not sure I am unhappy with removing the need to procreate from the equation.

Andrew Blackman said...

Loving your series on the sonnets, Brian. I haven't read them for years, so it's great to be reminded of them, and your comments really get me thinking about their meaning as well. Belated Happy Birthday, by the way :-)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Andrew.

This is a review of these Sonnets for me too. I did however calculate the other day that it is going to take me about another 20 years to make it through them all at the rate that I am going!

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Whilst the romantic me finds the idea of being cajoled to marry and procreate all very well and kind of sweet, the modern me is screaming nnnoooo. Great post as always Brian, thank you.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Tracy.

At least to our modern sensibilities there is definitely something interfering and inappropriate to the argument presented in the Sonnets.

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

I'm with Tracy on this one, but on the other hand it made me think about the time the sonnet was written. To marry and have children was the expected course to be followed in someone's life.
I wonder what Shakespeare's poetry would have been like had he lived in our time.

Caroline said...

I wouldn't have interpreted it that way at all and that's why I think your take on this sonnet is very interesting.
But I'm with Tracy and Delia.

Brian Joseph said...

Hello Delia & Caroline - Perhaps I overstated the understandable angle in my commentary. I completely agree that exhorting someone to marry and have children is over the top and certainly not in kine with modern sensibilities.

I just wanted to make the point that the reasoning in this particular Sonnet made a little more sense then the previous entries.

I think that this may not have been written today, I say may because I am leaving open the possibility that the narrator is very flawed character himself and does not speak for Shakespeare.

JaneGS said...

Glad you explained this sonnet to me because I read it through before reading your analysis, and then read it afterwards and finally got it! Now that I am looking at it as the latest cajoling to breed, I agree that I like this argument better than the others.

An instrument unplayed is just there, but when used as intended is beautiful and fulfills its purpose. Interesting thought.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - I think that despite the fact that the basic augment is problematic, the allegory is really elegant.

Maria Behar said...

Brian, as always, your insights shed light on even the most obscure literary pieces!

I must confess that the meaning of this particular Shakespearean sonnet was not very clear to me. Your interesting commentary does clarify it to some extent, and I did notice that Shakespeare alludes to the family unit, with words such as "husband", "sire", "child", and "mother". Still, the whole structure of this sonnet does not lend itself to clarity of meaning, and I would love it if you were to delve into it further.

For instance, the first two lines of the sonnet totally mystify me. What is The Bard trying to say here? Is it that one must always listen to music with joy? But there are some musical compositions that make a listener feel sad. What, then, does he mean by these words?

"Music to hear, why hear'st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy."

In subsequent lines, perhaps Shakespeare is admonishing the "Fair Youth" to marry and have a family because he can't make music by himself; he needs a wife and children in order to create a harmonious composition. (Allegorically, of course.) This seems to me to be the meaning of the following lines:

"They do but sweetly chide thee,who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou
shouldst bear."

What do you think? I would be interested in reading, if possible, more commentary on this particular sonnet.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!! : )

Delia (Postcards from Asia) said...

Hello Brian,
I've nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award, follow the link for more info.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks so much Delia! I am honored by your recognition! It means lot! I'm headed off to your blog now!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - You do raise good questions that I think that get to the issue of the strangeness of some of these Sonnets.

I think that you are exactly right on your assessment of the following lines:

"They do but sweetly chide thee,who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou
shouldst bear."

This defiantly seems to be comparing the harmony of a musical work to the harmony of the family. That is a farther, mother and child.

As far as the first couple of lines. The voice of the poem does seem to be ignoring the sad side to music works.

I have suggested, though I am not certain that, the voice of these poems is not Shakespeare himself. Instead he may be some kind of "salesman" who is trying to push the Fair Youth into a relationship. If so like many salespeople he is not talking about the negative side of what he is trying to sell!

Maria Behar said... seem to be raising the possibility that Shakespeare might not be the author of this sonnet.

I really need to become more familiar with these sonnets. I'm sure that a close analysis of the entire series (a daunting task, I must admit)would reveal any departures from The Bard's typical style.

I'm going to do some research on the matter.

Thanks again for the great post!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Maria - I may have given the wrong impression. I do think that Shakespeare wrote this. I was just speculating that his voice may not reflect his beliefs. Instead this might be a voice of a character.

HKatz said...

Interesting analysis (and this is a sonnet I haven't come across before). If one were to work off it, I wonder what kinds of music different family units would make. Here it's idealized as harmonious. Now I'm amusing myself thinking of families that sound like a bunch of pots and pans clanged together (though I guess some could love that).

Brian Joseph said...

Hi HKatz - Thank for stopping by.

I love your pots and pans analogy! Though I think that it is a reflection of life, I wonder if a slightly less chaotic comparison might be something with lots of counterpoint. Perhaps something by Bach.