“The Living Record” – 3

In various ways the author of the Sonnets expresses utter confidence that his “monument” will continue to exist after other kinds of memorials have crumbled to dust.

These are not offhand pronouncements; they are compelling declarations of commitment on behalf of the younger man to whom he is writing; and I chose at the outset to assume that he’s absolutely serious:

So long as men can breath or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 18

Not marble nor the gilded monument
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall Statues over-turn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
‘Gainst death and all oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So till the judgement that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
Sonnet 55

Or I shall live your Epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten,
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have
Though I (once gone) to all the world must die.
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men’s eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o’er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse,
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You still shall live (such vertue hath my Pen)
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.                                    Sonnet 81

And thou in this shalt find thy monument,
When tyrants’ crests and tombs of brass are spent.
Sonnet 107

Based on these pronouncements, here are some initial hypotheses:

* The poet was writing for readers in the future, like us.
* Therefore he must have made sure we could comprehend him.

* The monument must have a deliberate design or structure.
* The living record must have a consistent language.

* The one-hundred-and-fifty-four sonnets are autobiographical.
* The verses are arranged the way the poet intended.

* There are three basic series:

Fair Youth (1-126)
Dark Lady (127-152)
Bath Visit (153-154).

*Within each series, the sonnets are in chronological order.
*The verses are akin to the pages of a diary recording real events in real time.

* The orthography of 1609  reflects the author’s intentions.

* The poetical sequence comprises one unified masterwork whose parts all function together in service of the entire opus.

All these are tentative assumptions or premises, of course, but they form a foundation upon which to proceed.

Published in: Uncategorized on December 9, 2008 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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