That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
This is my favorite line from Shakespeare because it so beautifully captures how we all slide towards death, and the braveness of loving each other even though we must eventually lose each other… because of the amazing use of assonance… because just reading it gives me chills… because the sonnet is perfect, utterly perfect.
~Catherine Warren, Guest Contributor
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3
It does not matter that these words were spoken by a prattling old man, or that they were folded in to a somewhat humorous scene as a young man attempts to free himself from his father’s good natured but overbearing advice on his return to a foreign country. It also doesn’t matter that the person who speaks these words will soon be dead, his daughter will follow in death quickly thereafter, and his son – to whom the advice is directed – will be the manipulated instrument of destruction meted out on the royal family of Denmark, beyond what is planned or expected.
But while “Hamlet” remains one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, the context of these words is not all that matters. The heart of the words almost transcends their placement in a play. What matters even more deeply is that these words ring true no matter who speaks them, and they ring true no matter who embraces them; they are not heroic words spoken in a moment of passion or of revealed clarity. They are simple words, spoken by a father to his son, but they speak to all of us. No explanation needed.
Hamlet, Act II, Scene II
Ophelia loves Hamlet, and Hamlet seems to feel the same, and tells her so in a letter. But his passion suddenly wanes, and the crestfallen Ophelia passes the letter to her father, Polonius. Polonius is in fact the culprit behind Hamlet’s reversal of feeling, having told his daughter, “Lord Hamlet is a prince out of thy star…” and orders her to ignore his attentions. The rejection drives Hamlet into melancholia, thus giving Polonius the evidence he needs to prove the Prince’s madness.
Besides the machinations of a dysfunctional court, we’re left with the letter Hamlet writes when things are still promising, and a girl, princess or otherwise, couldn’t receive a more lovely set of lines:
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.
It’s classic Shakespearean metaphor, with all the grandness of earth and heaven to bolster an all too-human frailty like love. The lines have a certain ring to them, and seeing The Princess Bride recently, I thought of Hamlet’s clear headed, and sublime lines. In William Goldman’s parable of star-crossed love, Westley, the low-born farm boy, wants to marry Buttercup, but must first leave in order to make his fortune in the world. On his leave-taking, Buttercup is distraught:
—I fear I will never see you again.
—Of course you will.
—But what if something happens to you?
—Hear this now: I will always come for you.
—But how can you be sure?
—This is True Love. You think this happens every day?
It’s the pared-down, vernacular version of Hamlet’s sentiment, and in its own way, nearly as lovely. And perhaps Shakespeare’s poem-within-a-love-letter-within-a-play, had a role in inspiring Goldman’s meta-fictional courtly tale of love.
Ah, indeed – Shakespeare at his finest.