This miracle in black ink

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
  O! none, unless this miracle have might,
  That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Since he was wont to muse on mortal things, it seems fit that Shakespeare’s supposed birthday (the true date, like so much else about him, is unknown) is also the day he died. Death — sad mortality — loomed large to him, and so it’s a marvel of poetic irony that 400 years since the day he died, the world still bears witness to his life. So much of his surviving verse bears out his belief that verse could survive death, his will that it would. The miracle of his work is that it worked. His hand, after all, was strong enough. On this day, he’s not 400 years dead; he’s immortal.

Love is not love

For Valentine's Day, let these two Shakespeare sonnets - one witty, one wise - suffice to say what love is, and what it is not. In our Kardashian-shaped world, it's good to remember that love is not love which prizes false bodies over true minds, and won't last till next Tuesday, let alone doomsday. Instead, love is loyalty, and joy in another's whole being. Love lasts.

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

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.


That I should love a bright particular star

Shakespeare has a special line in obsessive, consumptive love; love that feels more like death than life. Even where the love itself is unhealthy, unworthy, or foreshortened by circumstance, his descriptions of that morbid state are magnificent. This is Helena, from All's well that ends well, confessing her love for Bertram. No matter that Bertram is a total jerk who spurns her repeatedly until he is tricked into accepting her. The poetry is beautiful, and in immortalising the feeling, it effaces Bertram's peculiar flaws; it survives his unworthiness.

I am undone: there is no living, none,
If Bertram be away. ’Twere all one
That I should love a bright particular star
And think to wed it, he is so above me:
In his bright radiance and collateral light
Must I be comforted, not in his sphere.
The ambition in my love thus plagues itself:
The hind that would be mated by the lion
Must die for love. ’Twas pretty, though plague,
To see him every hour; to sit and draw
His arched brows, his hawking eye, his curls,
In our heart’s table; heart too capable
Of every line and trick of his sweet favour:
But now he’s gone, and my idolatrous fancy
Must sanctify his reliques.


Shakespeare: In hope my verse shall stand

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ’gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Thou among the wastes of time must go

I don't mind an extra hour or two of daylight, but when we turn the clocks forward at the start of summer's lease, I can't help but feel, like Hamlet, that time is out of joint. I'm relieved when they go back, though it plunges our evening walk into darkness. Oddly, daylight saving seems to chew up the hours more rapidly, and to put us even more at odds with the turning earth than our curious lives have already made us. No-one knows better than Shakespeare how time makes fools of us. Here's a sonnet, (aptly, it's number 12) where the clock is the harbinger of our hastening doom. 
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silver'd o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard;
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.