Thursday, 1 September 2016

Sonnet 22

What is Love without  a bit of denial? What better denial than that involving old age? In a bid to bridge the implied generational chasm between himself and the Fair Youth, Shakespeare simply rejects 'old' age and would rather measure his progression by that of the Youth seeing as by their Love, they have exchanged in a proverbial sense. Interestingly, this was a fairly popular leitmotif among Elizabethan sonneteers and was popularised by Petrarch's Sonnet 48.

The first two lines outline clearly the notion that is to be the basis for the rest of the Sonnet, that is "Shakespeare will not accept aging as long as the Fair Youth is still young." In a few of the previous Sonnets, the persona clearly states that through his poetry, the Youth will live forever. A reversal of roles seems to be implied now where Shakespeare is in this moment living through the Fair Youth. The perfect give-and-take relationship some would say and yet there just seems to be some sort of peculiarity about the whole arrangement.

As a continuation to the idea that the Youth is his 'hourglass,' Shakespeare seems to acknowledge that Time will inevitably run ragged on himself and the Youth. "...when in thee time's furrows I behold...,"the persona shall know that death is nigh. On the face of it, it seems a rather simple concept; when the Youth becomes  old then Shakespeare will have or should be near meeting his end, just a normal progression of time. However, Lines 5 and 6 bring forth a rather surprising twist to the tale. Considering that "... all that beauty that doth cover thee...Is but the seemly raiment of my heart," ( the Youth's beauty is the very embodiment of Shakespeare's heart) it becomes clear that the poet is not accepting his demise at that point because he is old but rather because the Fair Youth's beauty has waned and there is nothing more to live for. Nothing to admire and nothing to write about. It appears the famous bard is in this one just for the looks.

The third quatrain is basically a plea for caution. Caution that the persona promises to also exercise apparently not for his sake but for the Fair Youth. One has to guess what sort of afflictions the two should be wary of, but bearing in mind the emergence of a rival in Sonnet 21, it seems the plea is for the Fair Youth to shy away from promiscuity in whatever sense applies to this seemingly non-sexual relationship.

Whilst the concluding couplet appears to  imply that Shakespeare will forever love the Youth (not return his heart); it is rather sad to note that the coinciding implication is that the Fair Youth will fail to preserve the love, "... when mine is slain." Is it wise to walk into a relationship you think will fail? Will the other party really make an effort if you predict failure from the onset?