Monday, November 24, 2008

William Shakespeare Sonnet 71

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell.
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so, 
That I in your sweet thought would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone. 

The Sonnets of Shakespeare 
The Laurel Shakespeare
Francis Fergusson, General Ed.
Text Ed. by Charles Jasper Sisson
Dell (1960)

In this poem of three sentences, the speaker is telling the beloved not to mourn too long when he/she is gone. The poem is a love poem, a warning, and a lament. The speaker, as is made evident in the bitter, sardonic tone, is angry at having to die. The poem is almost humorous in its self-pity. "The wise world" can almost "mock" the dying already. But we shouldn't ignore this bitterness. The speaker loves being alive, and loves whoever is being spoken to. One would do well to heed the poem's warning.  
It's as if the speaker, let's say it's a man to his wife, is saying: death is the ultimate humiliation; please don't let me be further humiliated by you having to suffer, in your inability to overcome your grief, the mockery of the "wise world". I love you too much. I love myself too much. If thinking of me "should make you woe", then please don't think of me. When I am dead ("in the clay"), if to read this verse and "rehearse" my name (long for me) makes you "moan" (cry), I'd rather your love for me decay with my body than have "the world" mock you with my death.
We can apply this sentiment to people we have lost who are still alive, too. 
Sometimes the people who say things like this are serious, and what they are saying makes sense. It's best to remember how a person's life filled yours up, rather than to dwell too long on the anguish the death, or the parting, causes to you. 

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