Have you ever returned to a favorite author after a long foray into other literature? Picked up a favorite book after having left it gathering dust on the shelf for far too long?
It’s like running into a dear old friend on the subway. Someone you knew would always be in your life but things had gotten too busy to call contact this person for whatever reason. There is a relief in seeing someone like that, a comfort in knowing that all is right in the world. Conversation with them brings easy familiarity and you wonder why it is you ever let your job get in the way of you seeing this person. Picking things up again is simple, like you never left them, because in your heart you never did.
I got to read and analyze Sonnet 18 this week for a class and felt the same way. There was something so very comforting in seeing those words in print and knowing I would be held accountable for them. Being introduced to all this wonderful (and not so wonderful) literature is important for me as a person and a scholar, but Sweet William (Shakespeare not Faulkner) will always be my home. I can do Shakespeare, Bakhtin is another story.
There are several sonnets that, over the course of the years, I have committed to memory. Sonnet 18 happens to be one of them (I mean really, how can I call myself a “Shakespeare scholar” and not be able to rattle off “Shall I compare thee to a summers’ day?...”). I have found that knowing them does not prevent me from making further discoveries within them. In fact, quite the opposite. Because I do know them so well I am more free to stretch the language, discover more, read deeper.
And boy let me tell you what this reading drudged up.
This Spring I will be speaking at several conferences, one of them the New Jersey Writers’ Alliance in a panel headed by Dr. Nira Gupta-Casale on Vampires and Zombies. My essay is a product of my obsessive love for a man dead 500 years (Shakespeare guys, not Lestat) combined with a genre that has led to one too many of my personal teenaged fantasies. Meld these together and you get my paper entitled Staking them Out: Shakespeare’s Vampires.
I can almost hear the critics groaning, but hey, the paper’s already been accepted to one conference and I have another hot on its tail. Yes, I do find founding and reason for the paper beyond “tee hee tee hee let’s see what I can dress up in academic mumbo-jumbo and sell to a conference!” I am slightly loathe to publish “inside scoop” on the paper before it’s been formally presented or published (this is the internet after all, and IP rights are sketchy at best especially among academics). However, suffice to say that this new lens brought a more than interesting reading to sonnets 18 and, more importantly, 19.
For your reading pleasure, take a look and see if you can’t see at least a tidbit of what I see:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course, untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breath or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Devouring time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived Phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets:
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime,
O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do they worst, old Time, despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
…far from vampires that sparkle in the sunlight, huh?