Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer,
Yet then my judgement knew no reason why,
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning time, whose millioned accidents
Creep in twixt vows, and change decrees of Kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp’st intents,
Divert strong minds to th’course of alt’ring things:
Alas why fearing of time’s tyranny,
Might I not then say now I love you best,
When I was certain o’er uncertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest:
Love is a Babe, then might I not say so
To give full growth to that which still doth grow.
Living in the moment
One of the great regrets I have in this life is my tendency to wait for something better. Wait for the sale price to drop, wait for the new iPhone to upgrade, wait for the best offer, wait for the right time. I wait for incremental improvements in unimportant details and then feel virtuous for having gotten the best deal. I do this in every trivial area of my life, while settling for the second rate, status quo, unsatisfying, and even damaging in my relationships, jobs, and personal growth. It’s an insidious paralysis that makes living in the moment super hard, because to commit to this moment would mean accepting that I am truly unworthy of something better. Or is it the reverse, that deep down I believe this is the best I can do, so I’d better hold on to it.
Because the unspoken flip side is that “time’s tyranny” swings both ways. If I am crowning the present as better than anything that came before (a known quantity), then my doubt is of an uncertain future either because I don’t believe it can get better, or because it’s equally likely to be all downhill from here. The inevitable change of fickle love is a common theme – see: S18 “And everything from fair sometime declines / by chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed,” and S49 “When love converted from the thing it was.” It’s a pessimistic view (better love now before it fades), and one I share. No matter how good life seems now, my mind is always aware that the tides will turn. I’m like an emotional squirrel in that I store up the love for the barren emotional winter to come. How I envy those who see love as the couplet sees it: Love is an eternal baby, with an infinite capacity for growth. I lie in a state of self imposed deprivation, in case there is no more to be had. But hey, I’m working on it!
I love sarcasm mixed with sincerity. The absurd setup followed by the relief of the truth. It’s best when it’s funny, irony being my comedy touchpoint. Sonnet 115 is not ironic, but it does set us up for a fall, then turns everything about with the unexpected twist.
This beauty has two turns, ll 3 and 9. The first couplet sets up the premise of the octave, while lowering the expectations of the object: everything I’ve ever written to you is a lie, even when I wrote “I love you.” There is a cruelty inherent in these Line 3 turns it on its ear, revealing my past pinnacles of love for you proved to be but temporary plateaus. It’s a lovely sentiment, further explained in Q2 as an inevitable byproduct of the inexorable change Time brings. The Sestet implores that, since time will change everything anyway, proclaiming the love I feel in this moment as the best ever is more than reasonable.
The language of Q3 is dazzling. Rhyming “accidents” with “sharp’st intents” is sheer linguistic genius. Same for “decrees of kings” and “altering things.” Stunning, and it feels electric on my lips as I speak it. And the consonants in “Creep in twixt vows and change decrees of kings” seem positively ribbed for my pleasure!
The couplet is a perfect extension of the rhetoric and imagery that comes before. Some couplets (as Don Patterson is fond of pointing out) suffer from the appearance of redundancy, simply restating the theme. Here, the couplet ties everything together in a stroke of sincerity I didn’t see coming back at the sarcasm of the first couplet. Maybe you did, but to a pessimist (actually, I prefer “pragmatist”) like me, speaking these lines with the requisite truth is revelatory, and a much needed salve for a soul battered by cynicism.