sonnets-fronticpieceA bit of a departure from the usual fare, but in honor of the 400th birthday of the first edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets I thought it would be fun to write about a different one each day this week. These aren’t going to be essays, really — just the kind of responses Jess and I always write, straight from the hip.

So much has been said about the Sonnets that I don’t need to add anything — no contextual stuff or hypothesizing about the poems’ objects. Who really cares who the dark lady was, or the youth, or the whoever? They’re poems — maybe the most jewel-like and exquisite poems we’re lucky enough to have. They’re packed, speaking to feelings we’ve all had in such simple phrases they sound like coded messages right from the subconscious. And they’re fun, with bouncy rhythms and that dangerously nursery-like Elizabethan ABAB rhyme scheme that only the most talented writers can drive towards literature without veering off the cliff into aphorism.

I’ll break my own rule about contextual stuff just this once, to say that the one theory of these I like the best (I think it was Wordsworth’s) is that they are purely Shakespeare’s thoughts, without the filter of characters in a play. So much of what he wrote was based on history and folklore that I like to believe the sonnets were his respite, a chance to write directly about what he had felt and experienced himself in life. For all our kvetching about Shakespeare’s thin biography, I think we can learn all we need right here, and through them learn a little about ourselves.

I hope you’ll take this anniversary week as an excuse to grab your favorite pocket-sized edition and give yourself a couple hours of a sunny afternoon to read a handful of Sonnets and let them sink in, play with them for a bit, and reap the rewards it’ll bring to the rest of your day.