(Poem #363) Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnet CXVI)
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove: O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come: Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
The last time we ran a metaphysical poem , I went into a rather detailed analysis of its construction, talking about the many conceits used, how they fit into a logical sequence, and how the idea of logic gave structure to the poem as a whole. Several readers wrote in to say that they enjoyed that particular essay, and they'd like to see more of the same on the Minstrels. Of course, not all poems lend themselves to that sort of critical dissection, and there are many which I believe should _not_ be analysed, just read and enjoyed in themselves. (Several of you wrote to express this latter point of view as well; you can't win, sometimes <grin>). Nevertheless, I will be analysing today's poem in depth; I think it offers a lot more to the reader who is willing to spend some time inquiring into its meaning. The Shakespeare of the sonnets is a very different person from the playwright who gave us King Lear, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the plays he is the consummate craftsman, entertaining audiences with masterpieces of dramatic effect while exploring human character to a degree seen never before or since. The sonnets, though, reveal a more thoughtful, introspective writer, a philosopher-poet inquiring, especially, into the question of Time and its effect on human affairs. But he's never coldly intellectual; his sonnets burn with emotion and (unrequited?) love. And it's in this respect that I feel that Shakespeare's sonnets are the definitive statement of the metaphysical poet's art: he presages Donne and Marvell and their 'passionate intelligence' with remarkable accuracy. 'Let me not to the marriage of true minds' is about as metaphysical as a poem can get; indeed, if I didn't know better, I would have credited it to Donne. Its themes are the usual Shakespearean preoccupations: in his commentary to 'Full many a glorious morning have I seen' , Martin writes, "If you've read any of Shakespeare's sonnets, the sequence of images is instantly familiar. Time triumphs over flesh, and Love over all.". This is the central idea of today's poem as well, but whereas in the previous sonnet Shakespeare talks about the frailty of the flesh, here he is more concerned with the constancy of Love. Love (the 'marriage of true minds') does not weaken when the circumstances that gave rise to it are changed - 'Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds'. Nay, it is a constant, like a star that glimmers fixed in the sky, far above the tempests that batter the wandering bark . And the navigator of life's ship can measure a star's height to obtain a reading of his own position; thus the star (Love) acts both as a symbol of constancy and as a beacon, guiding the voyager onwards. Nor is Love at the mercy of Time; although the external manifestations of beauty ('rosy lips and cheeks') may fall within the arc of the Grim Reaper's sickle, Love itself does not decay or crumble with the passage of hours and weeks. thomas.  John Donne's Valediction, archived at poem #330 . John Donne is a relatively recent discovery of mine; be warned, this list will be seeing quite a bit of him in the near future!  Sonnet XXXIII, at poem #219  This is the familiar conceit of life being a voyage; 'bark' is just a synonym for boat (usually, with an added implication of frailty). [Aside] Until I read today's sonnet, I would never ever have thought of using a phrase as clunky as 'admit impediments' in a poem... it just goes to show, I suppose.