Wednesday, June 20, 2018

But as the riper

FROM fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory ....

(Opening lines of Shakespeare's Sonnet I)

Most blossoms change their appearance quite rapidly as they pass through the few days from budding to withering, and that's particularly noticeable with roses, in fact it's part of their interest.

This may not, indeed, be the image that Shakespeare had in mind in these opening lines to his sequence, but it's the one I always think of: the fresh rose and the blowsy rose next to each other, the one succeeding to the other.

The rest of the poem:

........ But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.

Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.

Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

Line 6: A nice etude for the would-be reciter, to have to negotiate this tongue-twister so early!

Line 12, "tender churl".  "Tender" meaning youthful, soft, loving; or  fresh, like a newly opened rose?  "Churl", mainly OED sense 6, "One who is sordid, ‘hard’, or stingy in money-matters; a niggard; a miser."    The speaker in this third octet becomes more affectionate as his critique unrolls.  Because when it comes to it, the critique is a way of saying "How lovely you are".  But it isn't just that, either. It's also a critique that means what it says, the poet's quiet sadness is there from the start.



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