As it’s National Poetry Month, we asked one of our contributors to talk about their favourite poem and what it means to them.
I first encountered Shakespeare’s Sonnets as a teen studying English Literature. In the 20 or so years since then, I have flirted with poetry from every age and genre, and yet I keep coming back to these little gems. In particular, I return to Sonnet 18, with its famous opening lines:
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.
My little volume of Sonnets is a pocket book with a Renaissance painting on the cover. I had thumbed through it a few times in the bookstore. My friends must have noticed, because when my birthday came around that year, they chose this as their gift.
The Sonnets show a writer at the height of his craft, baring his soul to us. Unlike the plays, where you have to parse through hundreds of lines of soliloquy, dialogue and declamation to get glimpses of the man underneath, the sonnets are deeply personal, written to an unnamed ‘fair youth’ and ‘dark lady’.
Why does Sonnet 18 resonate with me? Sure, it is full of technical wizardry: contrasting the harshness of ‘rough winds’ with delicate ‘darling buds’, speaking of the sun’s ‘golden complexion’ or referring to life as wandering in the ‘shade’ of death. True, it is lauded for the rhythmic cadence of the iambic pentameter that Shakespeare so assuredly made his own. Any poetry teacher will tell you this.
Ultimately, though, it is the underlying sentiment that makes these fourteen lines sing across the distance of the ages. Sonnet 18 speaks to the eternal romantic in each of us, making us long for a love that will transcend time. ‘But thy eternal summer shall not fade,’ says the bard, and that’s why we hope and dream and strive, day after day. We can all identify with that yearning for summer, that idealized time when responsibilities and cares are suspended, when youth never fades. As Shakespeare immortalizes his love through verse (So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see/So long lives this, and gives life to thee), I am reminded that beauty, or rather our love of it, is one of the few constants in this ever-shifting world. Life is fleeting, but there’s much to celebrate, from the view on a mountain to the chords of a sublime work of music; all the creations of nature and man.
Written by Shailaja Prashanth
Shailaja Prashanth is a digital copywriter and avid reader who devours everything from literary fiction to billboards on the road.