It’s April, which means that its time again to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday with the 7th annual Sonnet Slam at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, April 21st.
This year, I’ve been assigned Sonnet 70, which seems a little less daunting than some of the others I’ve had in past years.
That thou art blamed shall not be thy defect,
For slander’s mark was ever yet the fair;
The ornament of beauty is suspect,
A crow that flies in heaven’s sweetest air.
So thou be good, slander doth but approve
Thy worth the greater, being woo’d of time:
For canker vice the sweetest buds doth love,
And thou present’st a pure unstained prime.
Thou hast pass’d by the ambush of young days,
Either not assail’d or victor being charg’d;
Yet this thy praise cannot be so thy praise,
To tie up envy, evermore enlarg’d:
If some suspect of ill mask’d not thy show,
Then thou alone kingdoms of hearts should’st owe.
As always, the key to interpreting these sonnets is to first unpack the form into three quatrains and a couplet, and then to make sure that every word is understood with its original Elizabethan meaning. I found the first ten lines here fairly straightforward to understand: beautiful people attract envious slander, so don’t feel too badly about it.
It’s the last four lines which present me with syntactical and comprehension difficulty.
I think the sense of them is something like, thank goodness the power of this poem is not enough to ward off slander —because if it did, then you would be besieged by suitors, and by inference, the poet would not have you to himself. But it’s a little tricky, and I still have to work out its exact meaning.
Paul Simon in New York’s Central Park invites you to Graceland this Monday morning.
Hear the crowd roar at the line “There is a girl in New York City/ Who calls herself The Human Trampoline.” For me, this song is Paul Simon at his songwriting best.
Last April, I participated in the 4th Annual Shakespeare Sonnet Slam in Central Park. It’s a lot of fun—participants perform all 154 sonnets in order, one per person, all in one afternoon. It’s open to anyone who wants to do it. Email them about a month before Shakespeare’s birthday, April 26th, 2015, and they will assign you a sonnet to perform for this year’s event on April 24th.
I was assigned Sonnet 33 last year. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with it beforehand. You can read it below. (BTW, it’s easier to deconstruct the meaning of a sonnet by breaking it up into three quatrains and a final couplet.)
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
Just for fun back then, since I was playing around with learning how to edit sound digitally, using computer software, I made this recording of the sonnet.
Pro audio editing tip: You can make anything, even reading the phone book, sound a hundred times better if you layer it over a bed of Pachibel’s Canon in D. 🙂
(Click on the triangle to play)