Meditation on a Shakespeare Sonnet

by Evelyn Hooven (June 2020)

Portrait of Gertie Schiele, Egon Schiele, 1909
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 thoughts 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.
A Note: Rarely anthologized, almost never quoted, this sonnet’s perspective may in our time be strikingly germane. Neither traditional praise of the immortalizing grandeur of poetry nor an implied narrative, it is an action, an oblique quest for a stance or state of mind before the unabating possibility of death.
What follows, in response, is my own poem-meditation. In homage and long-time gratitude, I try it in the Shakespearean idiom of blank verse.
No Longer Mourn: A Meditation
The quatrain-long imperative gives way
To conjecture: the subjunctive mood—
If, perchance, lest it should, perhaps—will prevail.
As the initial thought becomes more sorrow
Than assertion, anxiety shadows
A tentative balance; it is not loss
Of a world vile as its vilest worms,
Cunning in its travesties of mourning,
That stirs anguish, but a protective love
That can neither halt a mourner’s remembrance
Nor mend a process of worldly mockery.
At the verge of being withheld, the incomplete
Gesture, doubt, or conjecture make it possible
To consider the appalling peril
Of one’s total, irremediable absence.
What holds until the end is a Presence.
Here the sheer fact of protective love
And the verse, the lines that convey its fealty,
Are the best of offerings—modest, perhaps,
But the closest in a blemished world
To what is lofty, authentic, and pure.

Evelyn Hooven graduated from Mount Holyoke College and received her M.A. from Yale University, where she also studied at The Yale School of Drama. A member of the Dramatists’ Guild, she has had presentations of her verse dramas at several theatrical venues, including The Maxwell Anderson Playwrights Series in Greenwich, CT (after a state-wide competition) and The Poet’s Theatre in Cambridge, MA (result of a national competition). Her poems and translations from the French have appeared in ART TIMES, Chelsea, The Literary Review, THE SHOp: A Magazine of Poetry (in Ireland), The Tribeca Poetry Review, Vallum (in Montreal), and other journals, and her literary criticism in Oxford University’s Essays in Criticism.

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21 Jun 2020
Send an emailMick Sherman
After the first line the blank verse fades pretty fast. It is far less clear than for example in The Woodpile by R. Frost, which is amongst other things about the decay of the iambic pentamater. Your statements are a bit weak. Happy to correspond with you.

21 Jun 2020
James Como
Mr. Sherman puzzles me, and not simply because I regard Hooven's poem far more highly than he. Many moons ago I heard that a certain ballplayer, "X," was "no Lou Gehrig," and I thought, "well, what the hell?" The very invocation of The Iron Horse told me that X, who turned out to be Ted Williams, was . . . yes, close enough. Just so, to depreciate Hooven's pome by invoking . . . Frost . . . is a puzzlement. Sure, there is no disputing taste. But I would say that the poet's verse -- sound, rhythm, imagery, precision -- is artistry of a high sort: for example, the long clause that ends the first stanza is a match for Will himself. Moreover the artistry becomes art by -- I choose my word carefully -- perfecting incarnating the thought, which is movingly absolute. It answers, it counsels, it comforts. This poem (and it is not the only one of Hooven's) is worthy of inclusion in any anthology of English verse.

22 Jun 2020
Send an emailJames Como
Oops: near end of antepenultimate line should read 'perfectly'.

23 Jun 2020
Send an emailMick Sherman
Few poets, if any, can be placed in the same class as Shakespeare. To me this poem contains too many abstractions, and no, it isn't recognisable blank verse.

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