Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Here is Shakespeare’s famous 116th sonnet, which is a sonnet about love but not a love sonnet. It does not express the poet’s love for a person, but deals with the nature of love itself. You could read it as a kind of check list to see whether you are really in love or just infatuated by some superficial attribute of the person you are attracted to.

Or you can read it as just one more fabulous poem from the master himself…

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments; love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no, it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come;

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

    If this be error and upon me proved,

    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

From <http://www.stagemilk.com/best-shakespeare-sonnets/>

So let’s see how Shakespeare defines the nature of true love:

  • It is the coming together of two minds which makes true lover – physical attraction, the coming together of two bodies, has nothing to do with it;
  • Love is consistent, it does not disappear when the loved one changes, it is steadfast, you could say love is not fickle; this notion is repeated four times over, in lines three to eight, each time with a different metaphor. External events, circumstances, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune cannot weaken love, if that is true love;
  • Love does not fade with time, even if time take its toll on health and beauty, love will last from the time of youth to the time of old age.

These are high standards indeed, Shakespeare knows love should be taken seriously and if so can last. The final two lines proclaim the poet’s confidence in his doctrine of love. If someone should prove that his thesis is not the case, then it would be as if all Shakespeare’s words and all human experience of love would be wasted.

Once again, Shakespeare elevates all our humanity, using language which is direct and striking. How on earth did he keep doing this in everything he wrote?

The Poetry Dude

Ces atomes de feu qui sur la neige brillent, 

The Alps are always impressive in winter, with high snowy peaks surrounding steep valleys, wound through with narrow tracks (and of course ski-slopes today). Here is an early seventeenth century poetic celebration of that majestic beauty from French aristocratic poet Saint-Amant.

Winter in the Alps, captured in a sonnet…

Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT   (1594-1661)

L’hyver des Alpes

Ces atomes de feu qui sur la neige brillent,

Ces estincelles d’or, d’azur et de cristal

Dont l’hyver, au soleil, d’un lustre oriental

Pare ses cheveux blancs que les vents esparpillent ;

Ce beau cotton du ciel dequoy les monts s’habillent,

Ce pavé transparant fait du second metal,

Et cet air net et sain, propre à l’esprit vital,

Sont si doux à mes yeux que d’aise ils en petillent.

Cette saison me plaist, j’en ayme la froideur ;

Sa robbe d’innocence et de pure candeur

Couvre en quelque façon les crimes de la terre.

Aussi l’Olympien la void d’un front humain ;

Sa collere l’espargne, et jamais le tonnerre

Pour desoler ses jours ne partit de sa main.

From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/marc_antoine_girard_de_saint_amant/l_hyver_des_alpes.html>

The sonnet begins with the striking image of fire throwing out sparks over the white of the snow, then we realize the poet is talking about the bright rays of the sun, made even more spectacular by the whiteness of the snow on the mountainsides, whose angles and reflectiveness breaks up the sunlight, making it shimmer and shine. You can image the poet standing there, on a clear cold bright day, experiencing how good it is to be alive.

He looks up and sees the mountain tops covered in clouds, like cotton, translucent and silvery (silver is the second metal, after gold) and takes a deep breath of clean, fresh air, before feeling his eyes sparkle at the beauty of the scene.

The poet expresses his love for this season of cold, white innocence, blotting out the crimes and evils of the world – even the gods are in sympathy, sharing this human reaction – the poet is confident that the king of the gods will never hurl thunderbolts here to disturb this place of peace and beauty.

Let’s go…

The Poetry Dude

¡Como en el alto llano tu figura 

his is a lovely sonnet from Antonio Machado in which he combines the expression of his love for the remote and wild countryside of his adopted Castille with his love for his wife, by his side in this inspiring setting. But he is evoking this idyllic scene while sitting on the balcony of his apartment in the city, letting his imagination bring the idyll to life through the words of the poem. There are several levels of transformation here, enhancing the impact of this poem.

 

“As if I saw your face on the high plains…”

 

¡Como en el alto llano tu figura…

 

¡Como en el alto llano tu figura

se me aparece!… Mi palabra evoca

el prado verde y la árida llanura,

la zarza en flor, la cenicienta roca.

 

Y el recuerdo obediente, negra encina

brota en el cerro, baja el chopo al río;

el pastor va subiendo a la colina;

brilla un balcón de la ciudad: el mío,

 

el nuestro. ¿Ves? Hacia Aragón, lejana,

la sierra de Moncayo, blanca y rosa…

Mira el incendio de esa nube grana,

 

y aquella estrella en el azul, esposa.

Tras el Duero, la loma de Santana

se amorata en la tarde silenciosa.

 

From <http://www.taringa.net/post/apuntes-y-monografias/19082198/5-Poemas-Cortos-Antonio-Machado.html>

 

The poem begins with the poet imagining seeing the face of his wife on the high plains – you can tell he is imagining this by the first word, “Como” – as if. Then he tells how he is making his words, the words in the poem, recall the beauty of the high meadows covered in yellow brush and ashy rock. In the second four lines, imagination gives way to memory, the memory of seeing the oak trees bursting forth from the slope, the poplars leaning over the stream and the shepherd walking up the hill. In the eighth line, Machado brings up back to the reality that all this is coming from his head in the act of creating the poem – he is sitting on his balcony in the city.

 

In these first eight lines it is the poet’s vision of nature which is at the forefront,  but then he brings his wife into the picture – the city apartment is also hers, and he invites her, in the poem, to share his vision,  the see the mountains, the clouds the river Duero, the hills, and the shared experience which inspires love in the quiet of the afternoon.

 

The places mentioned are real locations in the country to the west of Zaragoza, in Castille close to the edge of Aragon, paces which Machado loved dearly.

 

Beautiful poem…

 

The Poetry Dude

Ô bel oeil de la nuit, ô la fille argentée

Here is a nice sonnet from Jean Passerat, in which a tormented lover confides his troubles to the moon, asking for help from the big rock in the night sky. This would be the literal definition of a lunatic, I think.

Jean PASSERAT   (1534-1602)

A la lune

Ô bel oeil de la nuit, ô la fille argentée

Et la soeur du soleil et la mère des mois,

O princesse des monts, des fleuves et des bois,

Dont la triple puissance en tous lieux est vantée.

Puisque tu es, déesse, au plus bas ciel montée,

D’où les piteux regrets des amants tu reçois,

Dis, lune au front cornu, as-tu vu quelquefois

Une âme qui d’amour fût si fort tourmentée ?

Si doncques ma douleur vient ton corps émouvoir,

Tu me peux secourir ; ayant en ton pouvoir

Des songes emplumés la bande charmeresse.

Choisis l’un d’entre tous qui les maux d’un amant

Sache mieux contrefaire, et l’envoie en dormant

Représenter ma peine à ma fière maîtresse.

From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/jean_passerat/a_la_lune.html>

The poet quickly establishes that, for him, the moon is a goddess with powerful influence over earthly and human affairs. The fourth line refers to the triple powers of the moon, recognized by all – these are not defined but could be power over the tides, power over the night sky and power over human moods and feelings. Anyway, whatever they may be, the poet goes on to implore the moon’s intervention in favour of his soul tormented by love. The final lines explain the ingenious mechanism – the moon has a stock of dreams which it can send to anyone sleeping, so it will be easy for the moon to send the poet’s lover a dream which will make her aware of and sympathetic to the poet’s suffering.

Nice idea, perhaps a better one would be to take his lover out and appreciate together the beauty of the moon in a clear night sky, while whispering romantic notions in her ear.

The Poetry Dude

Amor empieza por desasosiego,

This is a very satisfying, logically constructed, analytical sonnet by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, in which she dispassionately lays out the successive phases of a love affair and then uses it to console a friend who is suffering because he is in the final stages of the process in which jealousy and suspicion darkens any relationship. The process is very like what Marcel Proust describes in the various love affairs described in A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, except here, Sor Juana effectively nails the subject in a fourteen-line sonnet, whereas Proust takes a couple of thousand pages or so.

So here is Sor Juana’s Advice to a Jealous Lover…

QUE CONSUELA A UN CELOSO

Amor empieza por desasosiego,

solicitud, ardores y desvelos;

crece con riesgos, lances y recelos;

susténtase de llantos y de ruego.

Doctrínanle tibiezas y despego,

conserva el ser entre engañosos velos,

hasta que con agravios o con celos

apaga con sus lágrimas su fuego.

Su principio, su medio y fin es éste:

¿pues por qué, Alcino, sientes el desvío

de Celia, que otro tiempo bien te quiso?

¿Qué razón hay de que dolor te cueste?

Pues no te engañó amor, Alcino mío,

sino que llegó el término preciso.

From <http://www.poemas-del-alma.com/sor-juana-ines-de-la-cruz-que-consuela-a-un-celoso.htm>

The first four lines succinctly describe the first three phases of a love affair – unease, caring, passion; then daring and risk-taking; then dependence as revealed by needy claims on the lover. The second stanza proceeds through the cooling of passion but the awakening of jealousy, justified or unjustified, which starts to extinguish the flames of love. This the arc of many love affairs, and Sor Juana has described it in just eight lines.

In the remainder of the poem, Sor Juana addresses a lover, reminding him that the course of love is always like this, with a beginning a middle and an end – so why should Alcino, the lover, be upset by this completely natural course of events? There is no blame to be attached to either Alcino or his lover, Celia. So there is no point in suffering as a result – all that has happened is that this love affair has reached its natural end.

Sound and balanced advice indeed, but any lover would likely not be receptive to it until much later.

The Poetry Dude

O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:

Here is a seasonal poem, in which William Blake celebrates or rather laments the impact of winter, in the spirit of the Grinch, Jack Frost, General Winter or any other personification of the coldest and most desolate season. Winter has taken over the northern hemisphere and there is no escape until the last two lines of the poem.

 

It is a desolate, but kind of magnificent vision.

 

To Winter

 William Blake

 

O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:

The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark

Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,

Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.’

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep

Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathèd

In ribbèd steel; I dare not lift mine eyes,

For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.

 

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings

To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:

He withers all in silence, and in his hand

Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

 

He takes his seat upon the cliffs,–the mariner

Cries in vain. Poor little wretch, that deal’st

With storms!–till heaven smiles, and the monster

Is driv’n yelling to his caves beneath mount Hecla.

William Blake

 

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/to-winter/>

 

First, two explanatory  notes may be needed. In the first line, the meaning of “adamantine” is unbreakable (well I had to look it up…). And in the last line of the poem, Mount Hecla is not a place in Greek mythology, it is a real place, the most active volcano in southern Iceland, and presumably the last refuge of winter when spring forces him back to his lair. (Those who remember Jules Verne’s story, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” will remember that the route to the center of the earth also started from a volcano in Iceland.)

 

So for most of this poem, winter is depicted like some giant monster, bringing frozen desolation everywhere he goes, dreadful but impressive. Mere mortals, like the poet, must lower their eyes, hunker down and just wait for that moment when heaven smiles and Winter starts to retreat to his cave.

 

 

 

The Poetry Dude

À des heures et sans que tel souffle l’émeuve 

Here is a poem in which Mallarme makes some new Belgian friends in the beautiful old city of Bruges. I had to read it three times before I figured it out, but it is worth the effort, as it does evoke a certain captivating and mysterious beauty of the city while anchoring the poets’s memory of the people he meets. It is a sonnet.

Remémoration d’amis belges

À des heures et sans que tel souffle l’émeuve

Toute la vétusté presque couleur encens

Comme furtive d’elle et visible je sens

Que se dévêt pli selon pli la pierre veuve

Flotte ou semble par soi n’apporter une preuve

Sinon d’épandre pour baume antique le temps

Nous immémoriaux quelques-uns si contents

Sur la soudaineté de notre amitié neuve

O très chers rencontrés en le jamais banal

Bruges multipliant l’aube au défunt canal

Avec la promenade éparse de maint cygne

Quand solennellement cette cité m’apprit

Lesquels entre ses fils un autre vol désigne

À prompte irradier ainsi qu’aile l’esprit.

 Stéphane Mallarmé

From <http://www.toutelapoesie.com/poemes/mallarme/rememoration_d.htm>

There is a contrast between the old stones of the city and the new encounters with the Belgians the poet meets in the street. The swan on the canal taking flight at dawn shows the poet that he also can take flight and elevate his spirit, as can the inhabitants of this inspiring place.

If you can figure out the syntax and the vocabulary of this poem, it is quite moving.

The Poetry Dude