Archive for September 22, 2013

When’s a Sonnet not a Sonnet? When it’s No. 126..

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on September 22, 2013 by telescoper

Every now and then I like to post one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Of the entire collection of 154 this one, No. 126, is undoubtedly the strangest. It marks the end of the series of poems addressed to an unknown young man and is thought to have been given to the fair youth on his 27th birthday, marking the end of a relationship that lasted nine years. The following sonnets are addressed to another unknown person, but of the opposite Experts generally regard it as a kind of envoi, which is normally a short stanza at the end of a long poem, but in this case it is a poem in itself occurring at the end of a sequence. What’s strange about it is that it isn’t actually a sonnet at all. It consists of twelve lines rather than the usual fourteen, but the missing two lines are presented in most editions as two pairs of parentheses as shown below. Moreover, the rhyme scheme (consisting of six couplets) doesn’t fit with the pattern of the rest of the Sonnets, so even if he had filled in the two blanks at the end it would still have been an oddity.

So what was the reason for this curious verse? Perhaps Shakespeare deleted the final couplet because he felt the lines were somehow inappropriate? Perhaps he meant the fair youth to finish it himself, or issue an invitation to others to do likewise? Perhaps the poem is simply unfinished? Perhaps the poet wanted to demonstrate that the relationship with his beloved ended prematurely.

More likely than any of these interpretations, in my opinion, is that furnished by looking at the typical structure of a Shakespearean Sonnet. The last two lines usually express the poet’s consolation in the face of what has come before. Here there is none. It’s over. Read it in this light and I think it becomes even more moving to anyone who has experienced any kind of love and has had to face the fact that it is finally over.

O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time’s fickle glass, his sickle, hour;
Who hast by waning grown, and therein show’st
Thy lovers withering, as thy sweet self grow’st.
If Nature, sovereign mistress over wrack,
As thou goest onwards, still will pluck thee back,
She keeps thee to this purpose, that her skill
May time disgrace and wretched minutes kill.
Yet fear her, O thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but not still keep, her treasure:
Her audit (though delayed) answered must be,
And her quietus is to render thee.
(        )
(        )

Another Equinox

Posted in Biographical, Education on September 22, 2013 by telescoper

Well, that’s the end of Freshers Week at the University of Sussex. Hopefully new and returning students are settling into their courses now. Today is also the Autumnal Equinox, which gives me the excuse to post an edited and updated version of an item from the corresponding day five years ago. Although I’ve since moved from Cardiff to Brighton, not much has changed except me being five years older. Even the weather is similar:

The weather is unsettling. It’s warm, but somehow the warmth doesn’t quite fill the air; somewhere inside it there’s a chill that reminds you that autumn is not far away.

I find this kind of weather a bit spooky because it always takes me back to the time when I left home to go to University, as thousands of fledgling students are about to do this year in their turn. I did it 31 years ago, getting on a train at Newcastle Central station with my bags of books and clothes. I said goodbye to my parents there. There was never any question of them taking me in the car all the way to Cambridge. It wasn’t practical and I wouldn’t have wanted them to do it anyway. After changing from the Inter City at Peterborough onto a local train, we trundled through the flatness of East Anglia until it reached Cambridge. The weather, at least in my memory, was exactly like today.

I don’t remember much about the actual journey, but I must have felt a mixture of fear and excitement. Nobody in my family had ever been to University before, let alone to Cambridge. Come to think of it, nobody from my family has done so since either.

I was a bit worried about whether the course I would take in Natural Sciences would turn out to be difficult, but I think my main concern was how I would fit in generally.

I had been working between leaving school and starting my undergraduate course, so I had some money in the bank and I was also to receive a full grant. I wasn’t really worried about cash. But I hadn’t come from a posh family and didn’t really know the form. I didn’t have much experience of life outside the North East either. I’d been to London only once before going to Cambridge, and had never been abroad.

I didn’t have any posh clothes, a deficiency I thought would mark me as an outsider. I had always been grateful for having to wear a school uniform (which was bought with vouchers from the Council) because it meant that I dressed the same as the other kids at School, most of whom came from much wealthier families. But this turned out not to matter at all. Regardless of their family background, students were generally a mixture of shabby and fashionable, like they are today. Physics students in particular didn’t even bother with the fashionable bit. Although I didn’t have a proper dinner jacket for the Matriculation Dinner, held for all the new undergraduates, nobody said anything about my dark suit which I was told would be acceptable as long as it was a “lounge suit”. Whatever that is.

Taking a taxi from the station, I finally arrived at Magdalene College. I waited outside, a bundle of nerves, before entering the Porter’s Lodge and starting my life as a student. My name was found and ticked off and a key issued for my room in the Lutyen’s building. It turned out to be a large room, with a kind of screen that could be pulled across to divide the room into two, although I never actually used this contraption. There was a single bed and a kind of cupboard containing a sink and a mirror in the bit that could be hidden by the screen. The rest of the room contained a sofa, a table, a desk, and various chairs, all of them quite old but solidly made. Outside my  room, on the landing, was the gyp room, a kind of small kitchen, where I was to make countless cups of tea over the following months, although I never actually cooked anything there.

I struggled in with my bags and sat on the bed. It wasn’t at all like I had imagined. I realised that no amount of imagining would ever really have prepared me for what was going to happen at University.

I  stared at my luggage. I suddenly felt like I had landed on a strange island where I didn’t know anyone, and couldn’t remember why I had gone there or what I was supposed to be doing.

After 31 years you get used to that feeling.