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At Stratford-Upon-Avon -- Thomas Bailey Aldrich

       
(Poem #1018) At Stratford-Upon-Avon
 Thus spake his dust (so seemed it as I read
 The words): Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare
 (Poor ghost!) To digg the dust enclos├Ęd heare --
 Then came the malediction on the head
 Of whoso dare disturb the sacred dead.
 Outside the mavis whistled strong and clear,
 And, touched with the sweet glamour of the year,
 The winding Avon murmured in its bed,
 But in the solemn Stratford church the air
 Was chill and dank, and on the foot-worn tomb
 The evening shadows deepened momently.
 Then a great awe fell on me, standing there,
 As if some speechless presence in the gloom
 Was hovering, and fain would speak with me.
-- Thomas Bailey Aldrich
    (Sonnet XI from 'XXVIII Sonnets')

Note: The reference is to Shakespeare's self-penned epitaph:
      "Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare
       To digg the dust enclos├Ęd heare;
       Blese be ye man yt spares these stones
       And curst be he yt moves my bones "

      mavis: The song-thrush

      Aldrich dedicated the poem to Edwin Booth (see links)

As a poet and writer, Shakespeare stands alone in the public estimation -
like Einstein, his name and image have acquired a mystique out of proportion
to even his towering achievements. It is this semimythical Shakespeare that
Aldrich addresses in "At Stratford-Upon-Avon" - the man whose spirit even
now pervades the town in which he lies buried, speechless and awe-inspiring.

Aldrich captures this atmosphere admirably - the poem is evocative, and the
balance and development perfect. He also avoids the temptation to write in a
Shakespearean style[1] - an easy trap to fall into, given the subject, and
one that would likely have produced a far inferior poem.
  [1] or even to write a Shakespearean sonnet

The sonnet is developed beautifully, the octet setting up a quiet, almost
pastoral series of images which the sestet then builds upon and intensifies,
transforming 'quiet' into 'solemn' and (in the old sense of the word)
'awful'. All in all, one of the better tributes to the bard I've seen.

martin

Links:

  I found today's poem on the HTI American Verse Project, a wonderful
  resource I recently discovered:
    http://www.hti.umich.edu/a/amverse/

  There's a biography of Aldrich at Poem #236

  Edwin Booth: [broken link] http://shakespeare.eb.com/shakespeare/micro/78/51.html

  and [broken link] http://www.geocities.com/litpageplus/shakmoul.html has a lovely
  collection of pieces on and tributes to Shakespeare

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