23 April 2013

Poem of the Week Bonus: 23 April 2013

This is Shakespeare's birthday (in 1564, and also his death day in 1616, so gear up for quadricentennial of that in three years). So here's some Shakespeare:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk roses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enameled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.
And with the juice of this I'll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
Take thou some of it, and seek through this grove.
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth. Anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady. Thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he has on.
Effect it with some care that he may prove
More fond on her than she upon her love:
And look thou meet me ere the first cock crow.

This is spoken by Oberon the Fairy King in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I chose it for a couple of reasons. First, it fits in with the springtime theme of this month's poems (Midsummer Night is actually linked to the summer solstice and is usually celebrated on or near the feast of St John the Baptist on 24 June, but, you know, it's close enough to spring at least in mood).

The second reason is that when I was an English major at Cal I took a two-quarter survey course in Shakespeare from Janet Adelman, in which we read all of the plays except for The Merry Wives of Windsor, which she hated, which is not uncommon among those who love the Falstaff of the Henry IV plays. (She told us we could read it over the winter break if we wished.) When we read Midsummer's Night she recited this speech and paused and then said (I'm paraphrasing) that Shakespeare sometimes makes huge mistakes like putting a seacoast in Bohemia in The Winter's Tale and she and other professorial types always jump on those things, but it's because they could never produce a passage like this one, and the sheer stunning beauty of these passages is why the plays are still read and performed. And she paused again and then went on with her analysis of the play. And that moment is always in the back of my mind when the greatness of Shakespeare comes up.


Civic Center said...

All I can think of when reading your selection is the countertenor Oberon singing those same lines in Britten's operatic version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. "Haaaateful, hateful, hateful fantasies..."

Patrick J. Vaz said...

That's not a bad association to have.

Unknown said...

I love this choice of poem, but I have to disagree with you about the Spring connection. To me, this is so beautifully about Summer. Spring is usually depicted as being about new growth and the smells and colors associated with that. Summer involves this kind of lush and lazy overgrowth, kind of a sloppiness that takes over everything. So words like "overcanopied," and "musk" and "luscious" make me think of Summer.

As I was writing this, I had to get up for a few minutes, and looking out my window, I realized that I have tons of roses, and also sweet peas that are so overgrown that they are falling over the sidewalk. So, honestly, I don't know why I am so sure of what Spring is and isn't.

I love your story about Professor Adelman.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

For me, Spring is when my garden grows lushly, with almost visible daily progress, while Summer is dusty, hot, kind of tired, starting to wear out.