Shakespeare: Sonnet 18

Gather ye Rosebuds While Ye May

The first big error in my analysis is to head this post with a picture of a beautiful woman.

As per Wikipedia:

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May is an oil painting on canvas created in 1909 by British Pre-Raphaelite artist, John William Waterhouse. It was the second of two paintings inspired by the 17th century poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick

Yep, every-man’s favorite bard was referring to a boy, a youth.  Well I prefer to think of a woman when I read this poem, and it’s my blog anyway so I shall do as I please. And I love the corny and over-blown Pre-Raphaelites.

I’m not at all sure that the poem will stand too much analysis – it is simple enough. It has 14 lines of iambic pentameter, three quatrains followed by a couplet. It has the following rhyme scheme: abab cdcd efef gg.

The poem’s subject matter changes in the third quatrain: from a comparison of the youth and nature’s beauty, to the question of eternity, that favorite subject of poets (and indeed of many of us).

And in the concluding couplet, the punchline: this poem grants the youth eternity. So long as there exist readers, the youth will live in verse.

Probably the best known of William Shakespeare’s sonnets, it should, in my view, be taken simply at face value. For enjoyment. The thought itself is rather beautiful – that a youth (a part of nature) should be compared to the beauty of another part. We can see the summer’s day, all of us. And the buds of may. And the sun. All beautiful aspects of life on this planet which we have witnessed and enjoyed for ourselves.  And yet the youth’s beauty (in the eye of the poet at least) is apparently of a greater excellence yet.

Poetic licence of course, mere advertiser’s puff but charming, engaging nonetheless.  Oddly enough for me the beauty only fully emerges in the reading, the physical recitation of these words.

The rhythm lulls, it adds beauty and, it seems, meaning to the words. The combination is sensuous, it seems to soothe, to stroke.

Research into the nature of consciousness suggests that the pleasure pain axis is a matter of rhythm and harmony (or the lack thereof), at heart a matter of mathematics which can be described by vibration. I seem to feel intuitively what the researchers mean when I read well constructed poetry.

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