Wednesday

Feb. 10, 2010

Sonnet 30: When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear times' waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus'd to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
   But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
   All losses are restor'd and sorrows end.

"Sonnet XXX" by William Shakespeare. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of the man who wrote Doctor Zhivago (1957), Boris Pasternak (books by this author) born in Moscow (1890). From 1934 to 1943, he published no original work because of his fear of censorship under the government of Joseph Stalin. Around 1945, Pasternak began to work in secret on his masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, an epic novel that follows the lives of more than 60 characters through the first half of 20th-century Russia. He finally finished it in 1955 and smuggled it out of the Soviet Union to a publisher in Italy. Pasternak said at the time that he knew he was signing his own death warrant, but he felt he had to go through with it. The novel came out in 1957. It was immediately banned in the Soviet Union, but it became an international best-seller, selling 7 million copies worldwide.

It's Valentine's Day this weekend, and we're celebrating all week with literary love letters.

Playwright, poet, and Dublin wit Oscar Wilde was married with two children when he met Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed "Bosie," an Oxford undergraduate student who edited the school's literary magazine, The Spirit Lamp. Bosie had written a glowing review of Wilde's play Salome (1891, Wilde first wrote it in French), and the poet Lionel Johnson introduced Wilde and Douglas later that year, in the summer of 1891. The first six months of their relationship wasn't physically intimate, but during that time Wilde wrote to Douglas letters like this one:

"My own dear boy — Your sonnet is quite lovely and it is a marvel that those red roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the music of song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. You know that Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days. Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there and cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place; it only lacks you ...

Always with undying love, yours, Oscar"

The two went off on vacation in February 1895, and Douglas's father, who disliked his son and detested Wilde, left a visiting card at Wilde's social club in England accusing Wilde of being a "posing sodomite," though he famously spelled the latter word wrong. Douglas didn't like his dad and encouraged Wilde to sue for criminal libel. The trial went badly, and his dad's detectives hunted up all sorts of evidence against Wilde's sexual doings, even bringing forth male prostitutes to testify. Wilde dropped his lawsuit, but was then charged with "gross indecency." He was convicted and sentenced to two years of prison and hard labor. From prison in May 1895, he wrote this letter to Douglas:

"My sweet rose, my delicate flower, my lily of lilies, it is perhaps in prison that I am going to test the power of love. I am going to see if I cannot make the bitter warders sweet by the intensity of the love I bear you. I have had moments when I thought it would be wise to separate. Ah! Moments of weakness and madness! Now I see that would have mutilated my life, ruined my art, broken the musical chords which make a perfect soul. Even covered with mud I shall praise you, from the deepest abysses I shall cry to you. In my solitude you will be with me. I am determined not to revolt but to accept every outrage through devotion to love, to let my body be dishonored so long as my soul may always keep the image of you. From your silken hair to your delicate feet you are perfection to me. Pleasure hides love from us, but pain reveals it in its essence. O dearest of created things, if someone wounded by silence and solitude comes to you, dishonored, a laughing-stock, Oh! You can close his wounds by touching them and restore his soul which unhappiness had for a moment smothered. Nothing will be difficult for you then, and remember, it is that hope which makes me live, and that hope alone. What wisdom is to the philosopher, what God is to his saint, you are to me. To keep you in my soul, such is the goal of this pain which men call life. O my love, you whom I cherish above all things, white narcissus in an unmown field, think of the burden which falls to you, a burden which love alone can make light. ... I love you, I love you, my heart is a rose which your love has brought to bloom, my life is a desert fanned by the delicious breeze of your breath, and whose cool spring are your eyes; the imprint of your little feet makes valleys of shade for me, the odour of your hair is like myrrh, and wherever you go you exhale the perfumes of the cassia tree.

"Love me always, love me always. You have been the supreme, the perfect love of my life; there can be no other..."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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