Aug. 11, 2009
Walking to Oak-Head Pond, and Thinking of the Ponds I Will Visit in the Next Days and Weeks
What is so utterly invisible
not the wind,
not the inside of stone.
And yet, how often I'm fooled-
I'm wading along
in the sunlight-
and I'm sure I can see the fields and the ponds shining
I can see the light spilling
like a shower of meteors
into next week's trees,
and I plan to be there soon-
and, so far, I am
just that lucky,
my legs splashing
over the edge of darkness,
my heart on fire.
I don't know where
such certainty comes from-
the brave flesh
or the theater of the mind-
but if I had to guess
I would say that only
what the soul is supposed to be
could send us forth
with such cheer
as even the leaf must wear
as it unfurls
its fragrant body, and shines
against the hard possibility of stoppage-
which, day after day,
before such brisk, corpuscular belief,
shudders, and gives way.
On this day in 1596, William Shakespeare (books by this author) and Anne Hathaway buried their only son, Hamnet, who died at the age of 11 of unknown causes. At that time in England, about one third of children did not survive past the age of 10. Hamnet was named after Shakespeare's close friend, a baker, Hamlet Sadler. ("Hamnet" and "Hamlet" were virtually interchangeable names.) Hamnet had a twin sister Judith, named after the baker Hamlet's wife, Judith.
Over the years, Shakespearean scholars and critics have come up with all sorts of theories about the connection between Hamnet's death and Shakespeare's work, especially to his tragedy Hamlet.
In his tragedy The Life and Death of King John, Constance gives this speech:
Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.—
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!
James Joyce (books by this author) was fascinated with Shakespeare, and in Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus sits in the National Library and envisions a scene in which the living Shakespeare performs a role in a play that he has written.
Stephen conjures up the scene:
"The play begins. A player comes on under the shadow, made up in the castoff mail of a court buck, a wellset man with a bass voice. It is the ghost, the king, a king and no king, and the player is Shakespeare who has studied HAMLET all the years of his life which were not vanity in order to play the part of the spectre. He speaks the words …:
HAMLET, I AM THY FATHER'S SPIRIT, bidding him list. To a son he speaks, the son of his soul, the prince, young Hamlet and to the son of his body, Hamnet Shakespeare, who has died in Stratford that his namesake may live for ever."
At the time of her death, she was working on a novel called The Buccaneers. It's about five wealthy American girls who set out to marry landed (but poor) Englishmen, so that they might assume English feudal titles to their names, such as "Baroness" or "Duchess" or "Lady of the Manor."Although Wharton didn't complete the manuscript for The Buccaneers, she continued writing right up until she died. She lay in bed and worked on the novel, and each page that she completed she dropped onto the floor so that it could be collected later, when she was done. An unfinished version was published the year after her death, in 1938. In the 1990s, scholar Marion Mainwaring compiled and studied Edith Wharton's plot summary and notes about The Buccaneers and completed the story. Her version was published in 1993.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®