We still need a voice that thinks before it speaks.
I Am Very Bothered
by Simon Armitage
I am very bothered when I think of the bad things I have done in my life. Not least that time in the chemistry lab when I held a pair of scissors by the blades and played the handles in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner; then called your name, and handed them over.
O the unrivalled stench of branded skin as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
then couldn’t shake off the two burning rings. Marked, the doctor said, for eternity.
Don’t believe me, please, if I say that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen, of asking you if you would marry me.
Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four
ROMEO [To JULIET]
If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love ’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error, and upon me prov’d, I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
A reader shared a link on an article on the most successful and likely profitable forgeries of written materials in history, scoundrels trying to make money from Shakespeare’s legacy. There is very little material that survived that has been authenticated to have been written in Shakespeare’s own hand and that dearth opened the door to forgers to try and take advantage. The most enterprising and successful Shakespeare forger was William Ireland who in the 1790’s began forging manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays. His father became his unwitting accomplice when Ireland showed him his “findings” and because of his father’s standing in society and his absolute conviction the forgeries were authentic many Shakespeare scholars and collectors of the day were initially taken in by the scheme. However, Ireland went too far when he attempted to create a “lost” unpublished Shakespeare play titled Vortigern and Rowena. The play was so poorly written that his forgery was completed unmasked when he foolishly attempted to stage a production and it bombed after one performance. However, in an odd twist, after admitting his foolishness he continued to profit from by his scheme by making “authentic fakes”.
By Kahlil Gibran
Then Almitra spoke again and said, And what of Marriage, master? . . And he answered saying: . . You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. . . You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. . . Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. . . But let there be spaces in your togetherness, . . And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
. . Love one another, but make not a bond of love: . . Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. . .Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. . . Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. . . Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, . .Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
. .Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. . . For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. . .And stand together yet not too near together: . .For the pillars of the temple stand apart, . .And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
Because I had this faint memory of the thought of a taste in my mouth and could not name it
I went through school sad I could not say it if I had swallowed it or was it even edible
maybe I was too young when I first had it I did not know the word yet though the taste stayed
as I grew older some nights I could nearly describe it and would put my tongue to chalk
and paraffin and iodine and go into grocery stores sniffing along every aisle thinking I would find it
but I did not find it until one day when I was not looking there it was for an instant
it came to me I said it so I would remember though in time I forgot that is why now I write
I think the official answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare write is 154, but I object! History confirms there were two separate volumes of Shakespeare’s sonnets published, one in 1609 and one in 1640, both contain 154 sonnets so its easy to explain that answer. I have two issues with the proclamation that 154 is correct. First – the sonnet structure is deployed throughout his plays, either in full or in part, time and again. If we include the sonnets contained within the 38 plays that Shakespeare wrote, it would add extensively to that list. And second, why do we believe that the 154 sonnets that were published are the only ones he wrote? Unlike his plays, in which many copies were published, edited and made public so they could be performed, there is evidence that the publishing of his sonnets in 1609 was done without his consent. The first edition was littered with errors, some of which have remained, which suggest he was not directly involved in oversight of its publishing. The sonnets content and in some cases the casual nature of the writing, although brilliant but not polished suggest these were private poems intended for his lover, lovers or friends. And because some of the content suggests he may have been bi-sexual and that if proven, could have landed him in prison adds further evidence that he may not have intended for the sonnets to have been made public.
But do we honestly believe that the 154 that were published are all the sonnets that Shakespeare wrote if these were private missives not intended for the public’s eyes and ears? Maybe these poems were his way of satisfying his fantasies privately and he never wanted them to be shared. Or, as prolific a writer as Shakespeare, maybe there were far more than 154 sonnets hidden about under pillows some place in England over his lifetime.
Anyone who writes sonnets can tell you part of the reason they write them is they are ONLY 14 lines. Sonnets still require a fair amount of work, but you aren’t writing Hamlet. I write sonnets as play, in part because I know if I get sick of the poem I am working on, I can quit, discard it and it isn’t like I have wasted six months on a draft of a screenplay I now hate. I have a feeling that Shakespeare wrote sonnets as a way to relax and possibly as a way to not discard some ideas that maybe didn’t fit into the play he was writing at the time. I think he wrote sonnets because he knew those he shared them with would enjoy them. He may have written them to get laid. And because poetry can have that desired effect on romance, my guess is its entirely possible that some of his best poetry died with the lucky lover who received it and no copy was left lying around to be discovered by whatever means the publisher acquired them. Regardless of what you believe about the conspiracy theories regarding the work attributed to Shakespeare possibly being penned by himself and others, despite no direct evidence that Shakespeare did not author everything attributed to him, it feels like the true answer to the question of how many sonnets did Shakespeare(s) write – is a lot.
One of the reasons that Shakespeare included the rhyme and meter of sonnets in portions of his plays are that 10 syllables is about what most people can say comfortably and project loudly in a theater on stage without taking a breath and second rhyme helps actors remember their lines. The lines from this section of Romeo and Juliet below are 14 lines, with a rhyming convention of ababcdcdeef(e like)fg. Is it a sonnet? I think so but I am one to bend the rules a bit on what is and isn’t a sonnet.
How would you classify the poem above by Rodney Jones? All the lines have 10, 11 or 12 syllables, its fourteen lines long, but is it a sonnet? There is no rhyme at all, its certainly not a traditional sonnet, but how you interpret its construction depends on how you think about the influence of sonnets on poetry over time. I offer these two poems up as evidence to the question as to how many sonnets did Shakespeare write in his lifetime? You decide…. Have you ever sat down and read all 154 in a row in one sitting? If you have, what jumped out at you as you progressed through the most famous sonnets of all time?
Romeo and Juliet (Act 1, Scene 5, line 104)
by William Shakespeare
Juliet Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this: For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss. Romeo Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too? Juliet Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in pray’r. Romeo O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do, They pray—grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. Juliet Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake. Romeo Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take. (Kisses her) Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg’d. Juliet Then have my lips the sin that they have took. Romeo Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urg’d! Give me my sin again.
Human beings suffer. They torture one another. They get hurt and get hard. No poem or play or song Can fully right a wrong Inflicted and endured.
History says, Don’t hope On the side of the grave,’ But then, once in a lifetime The longed for tidal wave Of justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea- change On the far side of revenge. Believe that a further shore Is reachable from here. Believe in miracles. And cures and healing wells.
Call miracle self-healing, The utter self revealing Double-take of feeling. If there’s fire on the mountain And lightening and storm And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing The outcry and the birth-cry Of new life at its term. It means once in a lifetime That justice can rise up And hope and history rhyme.
It is the 21rst day, of the 21st year of the 21st Century. I feel better already….
by William Shakespeare
So is it not with me as with that Muse, Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse; Who heaven itself for ornament doth use, And every fair with his fair doth rehearse; Making a couplement of proud compare, With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems, With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems. O’ let me, true in love, but truly write, And then believe me, my love is as fair As any mother’s child, though not so bright As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air: Let them say more than like of hearsay well; I will not praise, that purpose not to sell
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, Then the charm is firm and good
Something’s missing from the spirit of Halloween this year – oh that’s right – the fun. COVID 19 has kicked the proverbial stuffing out of the concept of having fun this year. I like Halloween. I enjoy having neighborhood kids come to my door and meet and greet parents throughout the night. I like the voluntary community spirit Halloween brings forth and the excitement of little children getting candy. What’s not to like about ghouls and goblin’s, witches and princesses, werewolves, clowns, monsters and super heroes visiting you with a big smile on their face. It pains me to be turning off my light this year, to not carve a pumpkin and generally ignore Halloween all under the guise of being responsible. When did responsibility have anything to do with a holiday that enables children to overdose on sugar?
On top of the just plain disappointment in general of turning my back on Halloween it’s the fact that this year is the perfect storm of total Halloweeness – it’s on a Saturday night with a full moon. Even in this current predicament, we should all feel compelled to go out and do a little howling. I’ll have to settle for making pumpkin bread and eating my mini Peanut M and M bags and mini Mounds bars in the dark.
Halloween is supposed to be a little bit campy, a little bit scary and a little bit naughty all rolled into one fun sized holiday, something Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, does well. So – if you are in need of a Halloween fun infusion, check out Elvira’s video below – singing her hit single (or is it a double?) – 2 Big Pumpkins. Happy Halloween!
By Kenn Nesbitt
We’re having a Halloween party at school. I’m dressed up like Dracula. Man, I look cool! I dyed my hair black, and I cut off my bangs. I’m wearing a cape and some fake plastic fangs.
I put on some makeup to paint my face white, like creatures that only come out in the night. My fingernails, too, are all pointed and red. I look like I’m recently back from the dead.
My mom drops me off, and I run into school and suddenly feel like the world’s biggest fool. The other kids stare like I’m some kind of freak— the Halloween party is not till next week.
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts–from far where I abide–
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous, and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself, no quiet find.
I have always had a hard time reading or hearing Shakespeare prior to starting this project. My mind doesn’t follow old English grammar and vocabulary easily. I get bogged down and frustrated following the plot and dialogue in the few Shakespeare plays I have seen live or movies made true to the old script I have watched. I am afraid that biased me fairly negatively towards his sonnets in the past. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the longer Fourteen lines continues the easier it is for me to put myself inside Shakespeare’s sonnets. My enjoyment of his complicated and witty verse continues to grow.
My daily social distancing has not been particularly intellectual. I have retreated to the simple pleasures of popcorn, games and mindless TV. But the longer this goes on, the more restless my mind becomes and I can feel more serious pursuits starting to push towards the front of my mind as fall looms. Maybe my brain is starting to awaken again after sheltering in place for a bit.
I recently got my hair cut for the first time since January. My stylist asked me; “how was your quarantine?” For a moment my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the question, realizing how chipper he was when he said it. I could tell he was brimming with excitement to share his experience, which was refreshingly upbeat. I let him do all the talking. In the end I did what midwesterners do, I simply didn’t answer the question as sometimes silence is better than being gloomily honest.
I wonder what my brain would look like in an MRI section right now? Would it look elegant and complicated as in the video below? Or would it look like a big bowl of popcorn, simple and satisfying but not particularly motivating. What does your brain look like right now? What colors is it radiating based on the current palete of your mind.?
Sonnet CXIII (113)
By William Shakespeare
Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind;
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth latch:
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rud’st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour or deformed’st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
The crow, or dove, it shapes them to your feature.
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine eye untrue.
When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.
One of the blessings of writing a blog is the opportunity for connection with people in the world you would never have had the opportunity to cross paths otherwise. Such is how I have come to have a copy of Scott Newstock’s new book How to Think Like Shakespeare. Newstock is is a professor of English and founding director of Pearce Shakespeare Endowment at Rhodes College. Newstock is a follower of Fourteen Lines and graciously sent me an advance copy.
The entire premise of the book is simple; if we could understand how genius arises, deduce where the ability to reshape the world through new ideas gestates, could we be more successful in opening doors into the vast potential of our own minds? Could we reshape education to greater assist the learning of every student’s inner Shakespeare? Hundred’s of years have passed since Shakespeare laid down his pen and yet what do we really know about his creative process? All we have is the evidence of his genius. Isn’t that true of every great writer, innovator, architect, scientist and artist? How much do we really understand where and how inspiration is conjured? It does not come from logic, or a sequence of numbers and equations to be added up, even when the outcome may look somewhat rigid or mathematical as in the form of a sonnet. Great art and science and innovation comes from a place beyond reason to inform and inspire reason. And in that way there are no formulas for learning it, but there are interesting insights to be had to step back and we think about thinking.
Newstock’s book is fourteen chapters on the essence of thinking. It is a playful, quote filled romp into the mind of Shakespeare. It is also an indictment on the failure of outcome based education and a plea to students and educators everywhere to remember one thing; the purpose of education is to learn how to think, not just to learn facts and process. For facts become irrelevant nearly as fast as they are minted.
If you would like a quick primer on some of aspects of the book, check out how Newstock playfully uses the metaphors around sonnet structure to help us look at the world differently. I have provided a link to his recent article below. And if you are a teacher or student and looking for a fun read this summer, check out his new book. I will close with another genius, William Wordsworth, who laid down his own thoughts on how to think like a sonnet, in a sonnet. Enjoy.
Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
The nature of pop culture is our hero’s are champions. Regardless if you’re an NBA fan, its hard to not admire Kobe Bryant. He was exceptional in ways few athletes are exceptional. He spoke 6 languages fluently, he was by all accounts an all in father, and he had lived his life passionately. His critics, which during his playing career were many, criticized he was selfish, he was too driven, but you don’t win 5 NBA championships, while jumping directly from high school to the NBA, by not being incredibly focused on your craft. Kobe played the game with a level of athleticism and competitiveness that is a rare skill. Kobe’s self proclaimed nickname, “Black mamba”, said it all, he was a fearsome opponent and a winner when the game was on the line.
When Bryant won the Oscar for best short, I checked out the video. I am not a big NBA fan, rarely watching games until the end of the playoffs. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It is a poem, a love song, to a sport that enabled him to be his best self. With Kobe and Gigi’s tragic deaths, Dear Basketball is a touching epitaph.
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.
Was Edgar Allen Poe life as unconventional as his poetry and writing or has time allowed for Poe to be re-imagined in his own words? Poe’s life certainly would not fit into the conventions of today. He married his first cousin when she was 13 and he was 27. I think we would call that a pedophile today, not an eligible bachelor. She died eleven years later from tuberculosis. Poe died only two years after following her death under somewhat murky circumstances. In 1849, Poe went missing for five days and was found incoherent and delirious. He was taken to a Baltimore hospital where he died soon after at the age of 40. Typical of the time, No autopsy was performed and the cause of death was listed as a vague “congestion of the brain” and he was buried two days later. This rather unusual description opened the door for crack pots and scholars, (or are those the same thing?) to propose everything from murder, to carbon monoxide poisoning as the reason for his death. It doesn’t really matter, dead is dead. Poe doesn’t get enough credit for the quality of his writing and the varied contributions he made to literature. Poe grew up in desperate poverty and he wrote in true fashion as his vocation and made a living at it. I think he deserves more credit than he sometimes receives as a poet and writer.
by Edgar Allan Poe
It is not death, that some time in a sigh
This eloquent breath shall take its speechless flight;
That some time the live stars, which now reply
In sunlight to the sun, shall set in night;
That this warm conscious flesh shall perish quite,
And all life’s ruddy springs forget to flow; —
That verse shall cease, and the immortal spright
Be lapp’d in alien clay, and laid below: —
It is not death to know this, but to know
That pious thoughts, which visit at new graves,
In tender pilgrimage will cease to go
So duly and so oft, and when grass waves
Over the past-away, there may be then
No resurrections in the minds of men!