Sunday

Apr. 23, 2006

Sonnet 104: To me, fair friend, you never can be old

by William Shakespeare

SUNDAY, 23 APRIL, 2006
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Poem: "Sonnet 104" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

Sonnet 104

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers' pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April pérfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah yet doth beauty, like a dial hand,
Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived:
   For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred,
   Ere you were born was beauty's summer dead.


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the novelist Vladimir Nabokov, (books by this author) born in St. Petersburg, Russia (1899). 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. But Nabokov's family had to flee Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution.

In 1940, he sailed to America with his family, arriving in New York City poor and almost completely unknown. He struggled to support his family with a series of jobs teaching at New England colleges. Then, in the summer of 1951, he and his wife drove to Colorado in their Oldsmobile station wagon and he began to work on a novel in the car about a middle-aged European man named Humbert Humbert who falls in love with a twelve-year-old American girl named Dolores Haze. And that was Lolita (1955).

He later said that the novel was, in part, about his love affair with the English language. But it was hugely controversial, and the controversy helped the novel become a big best-seller. Nabokov was finally able to quit teaching and move with his wife to a hotel in Switzerland.


Today is believed to be the birthday of William Shakespeare, (books by this author) born in Stratford-on-Avon, England (1564). He was a playwright and poet, and is considered to be the most influential and perhaps the greatest writer in the English language. He gave us many beloved plays, including Romeo and Juliet (1594), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595), Hamlet (1600), Othello (1604), King Lear (1605), and Macbeth (1605).

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.

He went to London around 1588 to pursue his career in drama and by 1592 he was a well-known actor. He joined an acting troupe in 1594 and wrote many plays for the group while continuing to act. Scholars believe that he usually played the part of the first character that came on stage, but that in Hamlet he played the ghost.

Some scholars have suggested that Shakespeare couldn't have written the plays attributed to him because he had no formal education. A group of scientists recently plugged all his plays into a computer and tried to compare his work to other writers of his day, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and the Earl of Oxford. The only writer they found who frequently used words and phrases similar to Shakespeare's was Queen Elizabeth I, and she was eventually ruled out as well.

Shakespeare used one of the largest vocabularies of any English writer, almost 30,000 words, and he was the first writer to invent or record many of our most common turns of phrase, including "foul play," "as luck would have it," "your own flesh and blood," "too much of a good thing," "good riddance," "in one fell swoop," "cruel to be kind," "play fast and loose," "vanish into thin air," "the game is up," "truth will out" and "in the twinkling of an eye."

Shakespeare has always been popular in America, and many colonists kept copies of his complete works along with their Bibles. Pioneers performed his work out West. Many of the mines and canyons across the West are named after Shakespeare or one of his characters. Three mines in Colorado are called Ophelia, Cordelia, and Desdemona.

Shakespeare continues to be the most produced playwright in the world.


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