Jul. 24, 2003

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

by William Shakespeare

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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 ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st;
        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 Robert Graves, born in Wimbledon, England (1895). He's the author of almost 150 books of fiction, essays, and poetry. Though he considered himself primarily a poet, he's best known for his memoir, Goodbye to All That (1929) and his novel I, Claudius (1934). He kept writing poems with meter and rhyme even though it had fallen out of fashion, and he specialized in love poems when other poets were writing about the decline of western civilization.

It's the birthday of mystery novelist John D. MacDonald, born in Sharon, Pennsylvania (1916). He's famous for novels such as The Deep Blue Good-By (1964) and Nightmare in Pink (1964), featuring Travis McGee, a beach bum detective who lives on a houseboat that he won in a poker game.

It's the birthday of French novelist Alexandre Dumas, born in Villers-Cotterêts, France (1802). He wrote swashbuckling adventure novels like The Three Musketeers (1844) and The Count of Monte Cristo (1844).

It's the birthday of Zelda Fitzgerald, born Zelda Sayre in Montgomery, Alabama (1900). She was the wife and muse of the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a child, she was a restless tomboy, always running from one place to the next. Once, while babysitting, she told the children to climb up a tree and stay there until she came back, and she ran off to play with her friends for the rest of the day. When a military training camp was set up in her town during World War I, she loved going to dances with the soldiers, and they loved her too. One day, a group of infantrymen marched in front of her house and executed a drill in her honor. She met F. Scott Fitzgerald at one of the military dances, and he stood out from the crowd in his fancy Brooks Brothers uniform and cream-colored boots. Zelda said, "He smelled like new goods." He told her that she looked like the heroine in the novel he was writing. They went on their first date on Zelda's birthday, July 24, 1918. She never forgot that day. They got engaged, but Zelda's parents didn't approve of Scott, because he didn't have any money. He moved to New York and tried desperately to publish his first novel so that he could make something of himself and marry her. The novel was rejected twice, so Scott quit his job in New York and moved home with his parents in St. Paul, Minnesota to rewrite it one more time. While he worked, Zelda wrote him letters about the men she had been dating and about how maybe they should break off the engagement. He quoted lines from her letters in his novel, which was about a man who loses a girl because he doesn't have enough money. He retitled it This Side of Paradise, and in September of 1919, he received word that it would be published. Their marriage was difficult. Scott struggled with alcoholism and Zelda struggled with schizophrenia, but they were the quintessential literary couple of the Jazz age. Lillian Gish said, "They were both so beautiful, so blond, so clean and so clear." Dorothy Parker said, "[they] looked like they'd just stepped out of the sun." Zelda wrote some fiction too, including the novel Save Me the Waltz (1932), but some of her best writing was in her letters. Scott quoted from her letters and from things she'd said in all his writing. He based most of his major female characters on her, including Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (1925). After F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, Zelda wrote a letter to his family in White Bear, Minnesota. She wrote, "So many years have passed since summers lost themselves in the green valley of White Bear and time floated immutable and eternal above the blue sleek surface of the lake…Always we hoped to some day be able to offer testimonial to the courtesies that were extended us; from so many kind hearts, in so many lonesome places…Now that [Scott] won't be coming east again with his pockets full of promises and his notebooks full of schemes and new refurbished hope, life doesn't offer as happy a vista…Life has a way of closing its books as soon as ones category is fulfilled; and I suppose the time has come…If when things have resolved themselves more tangibly, I want to know how to find my way about the bread-line, I will write you - Don't forget me."

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