Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah, do not, when my heart hath ‘scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquer’d woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might,
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee will not seem so.

I wonder how often most of us have felt something like this and been at a loss to explain it; much like all the other sonnets, I know. The confounding thing about these is how expertly they get at the little thoughts and feelings and worries, the tiny stabbing things that sound so silly when you say them out loud. “Don’t leave me when I’m happy,” isn’t something easily expressed to a friend. The best of the sonnets don’t explore the obvious, but the simple and invisible.

This one always makes me think of another of those alone-at-night thoughts I often have: this too shall pass. It’s that old fable or whatever it is, where the king receives a pendant from some wizard or whomever and on the back is inscribed those words of advice he should take to heart in good times and bad. Particularly in the good times, I have a hard time escaping the thought of, “Well that’s all well and good for now, but what about tomorrow?” Not that it’s anything melancholy, just amazed truth: in those days when everything has gone so well, so knocked-out-of-the-park, I know that that’s not it. The days of mistakes and missed opportunities and abject failures will follow, almost to a reassuring predictability.

With that in mind, there’s a kind of heartening folly to 90, with its assumption that if you pile all the sorrows into one afternoon you’ll be done with them, that you’ll have tasted the very worst of fortune’s might. Ha! Will, you know that’s not true — that’s why I love your ridiculous rhyming poems! No matter what you do, that leaving will sting and it won’t be any less painful by coming on the heels of all the other disasters of a day. It’s not that things won’t look up, but you will always come back to sorrow — it’s the cost of happiness, after all.

The beauty of the sentiment to me is in its delicacy. The beloved means so much that the vulnerability is almost unbearable, yet it’s only acknowledged. He doesn’t say, “Don’t leave me,” but, “Do what you will, just please be careful.” It’s not a promise, but at least a question: can we, after weathering the storm, be sure we’ve weathered the worst? Let’s at least hope.

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