Wednesday

Apr. 23, 2003

Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

by William Shakespeare

WEDNESDAY, 23 APRIL 2003
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Poem: Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1899 to wealthy and prominent parents. He's the author of Lolita (1955). He described himself as "a perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library." He learned to read and write English before he could do so in Russian, and his family spoke in a mixture of English, French, and Russian. He had a happy childhood, complementing his studies with tennis, soccer, butterfly collecting, and art. Nabokov's family was forced to leave Russia because of the revolution in 1917, traveling first to Eastern Europe and then to England. He got a degree in literature from Cambridge University and moved to Berlin, where he earned money by giving English and tennis lessons; translating; acting as an extra in films; and composing chess problems and some of the first Russian crossword puzzles. He also began writing novels in Russian. He was a lifelong insomniac who wrote mostly at night. He wrote all of his novels on index cards so he could compose passages in whatever order he preferred, before rearranging them into the final puzzle. As World War II began, he moved with his wife and kids first to Paris and then to America, where he worked at the Museum of Natural History in New York, classifying butterflies. He was one of the greatest novelists and one of the greatest lepidopterists of his time, and spent just as much energy writing as he did collecting butterflies. A year after he moved to America, Nabokov began a series of teaching positions at universities across the country, eventually ending up at Cornell. He wrote Pnin (1957); Pale Fire (1962); and his best-known novel, Lolita (1955), about a middle-aged man's obsession with a thirteen year-old girl. It was rejected by all of the American publishers he contacted, each of which recognized its literary merit but denounced its vulgar subject matter. The book became a bestseller, spawned a Stanley Kubrick movie, and allowed Nabokov to retire from teaching and move to Montreux, Switzerland, where he spent the last sixteen years of his life.

It's the birthday of William Shakespeare, born in 1564. He wrote over thirty plays, including A Midsummer Night's Dream (c. 1594), Romeo and Juliet (c. 1595), Twelfth Night (c. 1600), Hamlet (c. 1601), Othello (c. 1604), King Lear (c. 1605), Macbeth (c. 1605), and The Tempest (c. 1611). Only a few scattered facts are known about his life. He was born and raised in the picturesque market town of Stratford-on Avon, surrounded by woodlands. His father was a glover and a leather merchant; he and his wife had eight children including William, but three of them died in childbirth. William probably left grammar school when he was thirteen years old, but continued to study on his own. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, who was already several months pregnant. Within two years he was the father of three children. He went to London around 1588 to pursue his career in drama, and by 1592 he was a well-known actor. Shakespeare joined the acting troupe the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1594, and wrote many plays for the group while continuing to act. The group performed often for Queen Elizabeth, and in 1598 Shakespeare helped to buy the Globe Theatre just south of London, which became the group's new home. Shakespeare was very popular late in life, becoming one of the first playwrights to sell editions of his plays to the public. He went into semi-retirement in 1611 after finishing The Tempest, and returned to Stratford to be with his family. He died on his birthday five years later. He wrote in The Tempest:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors
As I foretold you were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
IV,i,148-158


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