Wednesday

Oct. 31, 2007

Sonnet 65: Since brass nor stone nor boundless sea

by William Shakespeare

WEDNESDAY, 31 OCTOBER, 2007
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Poem: "65" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

65

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.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's Halloween, one of the oldest holidays in the Western European tradition, invented by the Celts, who believed Halloween was the day of the year when spirits, ghosts, faeries, and goblins walked the earth. The tradition of dressing up and getting candy probably started with the Celts as well. Historians believe that they dressed up as ghost and goblins to scare away the spirits, and they would put food and wine on their doorstep for the spirits of family members who had come back to visit the home.

Pope Gregory III turned Halloween into a Christian holiday in the eighth century, and people were encouraged to dress up as saints and give food to the poor. But when Irish Catholics brought the Celtic traditions to the United States, Halloween became a holiday for them to let off steam by pulling pranks, hoisting wagons onto barn roofs, releasing cows from their pastures, and committing all kinds of mischief involving outhouses. Treats evolved as a way to bribe the vandals and protect homes.

It wasn't until the early 20th century that Halloween became a holiday for children. In 1920, the Ladies' Home Journal made the first known reference to children going door to door for candy, and by the 1950s it was a universal practice in this country. By the end of the 20th century, 92 percent of America's children were trick-or-treating. Tonight, about 70 percent of American households will open their doors and offer candy to children, and Halloween parties are becoming increasingly popular among adults. It's the one day a year that people can freely dress as the opposite gender, as criminals, superheroes, celebrities, animals, or even inanimate objects. But retailers report that the most popular costumes remain some variation on witches, ghosts, and devils.


It's the birthday of the poet John Keats, (books by this author) born in London (1795), who was just starting his career as a poet in 1818 when a series of brutally negative reviews of his first two books appeared. And then, that same year, Keats learned that his brother was dying of tuberculosis. Keats spent the last few months of 1818 taking care of his brother, who died a few weeks before Christmas. In the wake of his brother's death, Keats moved into a duplex with a friend, and in the other half of the duplex lived a beautiful 18-year-old girl named Fanny Brawne, who became the love of his life. He declared his love to her just three weeks after having met her, but he decided not to marry her until he'd secured his reputation as a great poet.

And so it was partly Keats's desire to get married that inspired him to write many of his greatest poems in the next six months, including "Ode on a Grecian Urn," "Ode on Melancholy," "Ode to a Nightingale," and "To Autumn." But by that winter, he was already suffering the early signs of the tuberculosis he had caught from his brother. He moved to Italy in hopes of improving his health, but he only got worse.

He was just 25 years old when he died, and he had published only 54 poems. He asked that his epitaph read, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." It took about 25 years after his death before people began to pay attention to his work, but by the 1850s he was being compared Shakespeare. John Keats, who said, "Poetry should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance."

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