Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65


William Shakespeare (1564-1616) –“The Chandos Portrait” (painted c. 1610)

AG: So because there is that meeting place of all emotions and breath, of emotion and breath, and language, and cadence, because some poets arrive at it, therefore it’s possible for them to straighten their backs and say, “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme”. He (Shakespeare) says it again in Sonnet 65, next page “Since brass..” (even brass now, not merely stone or marble gilded monuments but the actual solid brass itself) – “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea/But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,/How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,/Whose action is no stronger than a flower?’ – (that’s a pretty good image for what I was trying to describe) – “Whose action is no stronger than a flower?” – “O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out..” (that’s pretty good for the poet – “honey breath”, and he’s got the breath there) – “how shall summer’s honey breath hold out./Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring 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” – (And it still does so he made it, over the top, completely so, he’s proved his point by the fact that we’re in this class reading this “black ink”! – I mean, our very presence here, the fact that everybody, at one time or another, has heard these lines, the fact that many have memorized it over the centuries, the fact that I’m just sort of breathing this air, this loaded air on you, that you’re sitting still here without revolting, running out the door, means that Shakespeare has proved his point, that we’re prisoners of his powerful rhyme, or enraptured, I should say, enchanted, or his powerful rhyme reminds us of our own powerful heart breath. So it is the heart breath, or the immortal breath, or the immortal..the immortal spirit (since, over and over, it can’t be said too many times that spirit means breath, etymologically – breathing – spiritus is breath, breathing – does everybody know that? Latin? – the root, the root of the word “spirit” goes back to breathing – [to Student] have you got a big dictionary here?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twenty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in and concluding approximately twenty-eight-and-three-quarter minutes in]

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