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Lions Roar : March 2006
About a Poem: Esther Rochon on William Shakespeare's Sonnet 60 SONNET 60 Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend. Nativity, once in the main of light, Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd, Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight, And Time that gave doth now his gift confound. Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth, And delves the parallels in beauty's brow, Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth, And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow: And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand, Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. Sonnets can be resilient structures of words, able to withstand centuries, as has this one. They often do so because of perfect form, splendid sounds, and expressive meaning. In this Shakespeare sonnet, there is no lack of these. It begins softly, with waves, pebbles, and minutes going by. But drama comes in. "Crooked eclipses" fight against maturity's glory. Crooked eclipses! It evokes becoming old, bent, and possibly senile. Time "feeds on the rarities of nature's truth" -what an assertion! Whatever is rare will only be food for time. Flowers wilt, precious stones become dust, art and architecture are ru- ined-nature's truth does not exclude man's truth. One can also think of glaciers melting, of meadows giving way to des- erts, of animals and plants becoming extinct. "And Time that gave doth now his gift confound." Magnifi- cent things do happen, yet at some point they are over. Places where we lived happily have been destroyed, a very common experience in the world we live in. Relationships we cherished have turned cold. We cannot go back. The road is closed. This line on the graves of loved ones can be haunting. 112 SHAMBHALASUN MARCH 2006 The instinct for wanting good things to last and bad ones to go away has its wholesomeness; yet, beyond that, stands the greater picture of everything breaking down at some point, dying, being over. How can one manifest love, compassion, or peace? How can an enlightened society be built, unless impermanence is fully em- braced? How can there be healing, or a path, without wholly ac- cepting death? It's not a question of being callous; it's a question of seeing the overall situation. In the teachings of the Hinayana, impermanence is one of the marks of existence; in the teachings of the Vajrayana, it is one of the gates of liberation. The last two lines of the sonnet are light, in contrast with the rest, which creates a proper balance. Without proper historical context, we do not know who the poet is referring to: "Praising thy worth..." Whose worth is he talking about? Sonnets are lightweight structures of words. They are hollow. They can be filled with different meanings. It actually could be your own worth that the poem is referring to. After all, it is your impermanence. Anyone is worthy to understand impermanence. I discovered this sonnet when I was about sixteen. I learned it by heart. At that time I was learning English, and missing most cultural references to Shakespeare. I was interested in truth, and this was telling the truth. I was also attracted to beauty, and this piece was beautiful. Among my family or friends, no one would have been this straightforward: death was considered a tragedy, if not a scan- daL Here, though, some past voice had gone beyond grief to pro- claim that everything is destroyed sooner or later. The elegance of the statement was enough for me to wake up to the fact that imper- manence is something to work with, rather than to fight against. It made me realize that, in spite of all the pain and sadness involved, impermanence is actually great, lively, and fearless. . EST HER ROC H a N writes science fiction and fantasy in French. Her latest book is L'Aigle des Profondeurs (Alire, 2002)