Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shakespeare's Procreation Sonnets: Walt Whitman for Heterosexuals

Shakespeare wrote 154 Sonnets, and the first 17 are all about hopping in the sack, spreading the seed, or settling down in marriage, all for one purpose:   to celebrate the song of thyself--Walt Whitman style--through procreation.  We guys owe it to the world to make little copies of ourrselves, and how could any "untilled womb refuse thy husbandry", or some such….

Sonnets are written in iambic pentameter, meaning five two syllable couplets per line.  Shakespearean sonnets have 14 lines, and, unlike the plays which are written in blank verse (unrhymed), there is a rhyming pattern of

a-b-a-b; c-d-c-d; e-f-e-f; g-g

The whole lot of them (the 154) were published together in 1609 by Thomas Thorpe, who may or may not have come by them legitimately.  Shakespeare (~1564-1616) was 45 at the time.  

Although the exhortations in these procreation sonnets verge on the preachy, there is not a hint of religion in any of them.  This is not a vision of marriage and procreation for the glory of God; it's all about the glory of me.  They are concerned with youth, beauty, and loss thereof.  They are lusty and full of life.  

Here is the most famous, and best by a wide margin, of the 17 procreation sonnets:
Sonnet XII 
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
   And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
   Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
So, naturally, I wanted to try my hand at one.  Being past youth, and never having procreated, I take issue with the message in Shakespeare's first 17 sonnets that the meaning of life is youth and propagation of youth through procreation.  The need for a rhyme for "manifesto" led me to Alexandre Dumas and his Count of Monte Cristo.  It's quite the story, judging from the plot summary in Wikipedia.  It was excerpted in a periodical, like many of Dickens' novels at that time as well.  Elizabeth, a patron of Shakespeare's, of course, is a paragon of an independent woman who is not defined through procreation.   I found it's easy enough to fit the form and structure and make a point,  but it's tougher to make it sound like Shakespeare.  

So here goes ….
Boys Just Want to Have Fun  
The creation sonnets manifesto,
Sheakespeare’s desperate cry of Henry the VIII,
Was lost on his daughter and Monte Cristo.
The count, his heart consumed with schemes of hate,
Takes revenge although blessed with fortune;
What matters for him lies in the spleen,
Present beauty is not what’s opportune.
And Elizabeth, the virgin queen,
Her fairest beauty has never died,
No tender heir to bear her memory,
Yet her life is fulfilled and not belied,
By lack of issue or end of dynasty.
All beauty should have its day in the sun,
Yes, because boys, we just want to have fun.