Saturday, 15 August 2009

Shakespeare Saturday: Sonnet XVIII

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

I wonder what 'this' is, exactly. My first thought is that it is the poem, but I'm not entirely convinced that Shakespeare could have predicted the longevity of his work. The poem will only give life to its subject for as long as it is read. It also seems a little strange to write a love poem showing how the author has made the subject lovable. It's possible, of course, that the poem is simply an arrogant piece of work, but I'd rather think of it differently.

I like to think that 'this' might be humanity. It is showcased in Shakespeare's ability to write, but also in the subject's soul, that won't die, even when the physical signs of age are overcoming her. It's not a very well supported conclusion, but I like it.

By drawing that conclusion, I can say that the sonnet suggests that each person exists as a person because other people exist. We immortalise one another, in a sense. I don't think that gives us the whole picture, but it is remarkable in its similarity to the Ubuntu philosophy. It's interesting that such similar concepts can arise independently. I think there are certain ideals to which almost everyone subscribes at some level and that a more general version of Ubuntu is one of them.

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