In defence of poesy 2011: William Shakespeare

April 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

These days, much poetry insists on looseness, on forms that allow for freedom of expression, rhythm, and meter: free verse, sound poetry, flarf, and so on. But traditional forms – villanelle, ghazal, glossa, and so on – remain intriguing, if only because their formal constraints imply a kind of poetic performance. Anyone who doubts how difficult it is to write a Shakespearean sonnet, for instance, should try it sometime. The form requires three quatrains and a final couplet, for a rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. Oh, and they have to be in iambic pentameter. Go.

When people think of Shakespeare’s sonnets, they tend to think of the pretty, romantic musings of Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) or Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments”). But Shakespeare’s imagination was incapable of being constrained: it was capable of both comedy and tragedy, high mindedness and low, love and death. I discovered his Sonnet 147 by way of Harold Bloom’s new book, The Anatomy of Influence. Bloom considers Shakespeare to be at the very centre of the English literary canon, and he makes a solid case for why this should be so, beginning with what he calls the “capaciousness” of Shakespeare’s imagination. Sonnet 147 is one of the darkest, creepiest love poems I’ve come across in recent memory. It made an immediate impression on me, and underscores the power of a contained, disciplined poetic form.

Sonnet 147

My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed:
+++For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
+++Who are as black as hell, as dark as night.

They urinate upon thy damnèd rug

January 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

As a means of taking the edge off the first work week of 2010, I give you comedy gold: The Big Lebowski, as written by William Shakespeare:

WALTER
I speak of this other man, Sir Geoffrey of Lebowski. Is not thy name, sir, Geoffrey of Lebowski? To be or not Lebowski, that is the question; I see we still did meet each other’s man. Shall we not make amends? A gentleman of high sentence ought to be of unsequestered location, possessed of resources fit to restore a thousand rugs from vile offence. He’s not well married that lets his wife a borrower be, such that men gravely offended bespoil another man’s rug. Be I wrong?

THE KNAVE
No, but verily—

WALTER
Be I wrong?

THE KNAVE
Yea, but verily—

WALTER
That rug, in faith, tied the room together, did it not?

THE KNAVE
By my heart, a goodly rug.

DONALD
And in most miserable tide did this rogue besmirch it.

WALTER
Prithee, Donald! Thou too eagerly hold’st the mirror up to nature.

THE KNAVE
My mind races; I might endeavour to seek this gentleman Lebowski.

DONALD
His name is Lebowski? Verily, ope thine ear; that is thy name, Knave!

THE KNAVE
On good authority; and his nobleness must oblige. His wife taketh up quarrel and borrows, and they bespoil my rug.

WALTER
Marry, sir, my heartstrings do you tug;
They urinate upon thy damnèd rug.

[Exeunt severally]