Sonnet Help Needed (for my kids)

Ok, my regular readers I think are following this story.  I’ve taken to singing Sonnet 18 to my girls, 5 and 3, as a lullaby.  They seem to dig it, and the other day my 5yr old even said, “Daddy I’m not remembering the words because we don’t sing it enough.”  Fair enough! So tonight I’m putting them to bed, I sing them the song, and in she starts with the questions.  “Why did Shakespeare write this?” “Well, he was writing it for someone who he thought was just the most perfect angel he had ever seen, you see, and he was trying to think of something that he could write about that was as beautiful as this person.” “Because he loved her.” “Absolutely, he loved her more than you can imagine.” (It is worth noting here, for the curious, that my 3yr old decided to lick my arm.  “Why are you doing that?” I ask her.  “You don’t lick people, you give people kisses.” “I’m a llama!” she said. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were being a llama.  Do llama’s lick people?” “Yes!” “Got it.  Continue.”) “What was her name?” asked my 5yr old, more on topic. “It’s a mystery, nobody knows!  He never says her name in the poem, so we don’t know what her name was.” “What’s it about?” “Well, you know how sunny summer days are just the most awesome, happy thing in the whole world?  He thinks, hmmm, maybe I should compare her to a summer day.  But then he thinks, well you know, sometimes it’s cloudy outside, and that’s no fun, and sometimes even when the sun is out sometimes it’s too too hot, and that’s no fun either, so maybe comparing her to a summer day isn’t such a good idea after all, because she’s better than that.” “Maybe he could compare her to a flower?” Pause. “You know, that’s a very good question.  He actually wrote a lot of these poems, you know.  This is just one.  He wrote over a hundred and fifty of them.  And I’ll bet that in one of them he compared her to a flower.  I’ll find out, ok?” “Ok.” “I’m serious.” “I know you are, Daddy.” And, here we are.  My 5 yr old has put the question to me, did Shakespeare write any sonnets comparing his beloved to a flower?  I’m not versed enough in all 154 to know the answer off the top of my head.  Help? (To truly appreciate these stories, oh new readers, you have to dig the scene.  We’re in the bedroom of my 3yr old.  Who is named Elizabeth, who I tend to call Elizabethan because I think it’s cool.  For her first birthday I actually wrote her her own sonnet, which is framed and hanging on her wall.  She has no idea what it is, which I’m cool with.  Right now she’s pretending to be a llama.  But one day she’ll understand this whole Shakespeare / sonnet thing, and I’ll point it out to her and she’ll be able to say, “I have my own?)  

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4 thoughts on “Sonnet Help Needed (for my kids)

  1. He never says her name in the poem, so we don’t know what her name was.

    I suppose the fact that Sonnets 135 and 136 indicate that it might have been William would raise more questions than it answers. 😉

  2. He’s certainly talking about himself, to be sure, but it’s sometimes speculated — since the speaker’s mistress is having it off with the young man (as various sonnets indicate) — that it’s also the youth’s name, as indicated by lines like

    Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
    Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.

    Though this is of course not certain by any means (of course the “fill it full with wills” line is also a penis joke), and is probably influenced by efforts to identify the youth with William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke.

  3. I don’t know the sonnets off the top of my head either, but Open Source Shakespeare might be of help — it allows you to search any of Shakespeare’s texts for different forms of a single word (i.e. “flower,” “flowers”). I hope you’re able to answer her Shakespeare question — and it’s absolutely wonderful that your 5-year-old is asking questions about Shakespeare!

  4. Well, Lea, you can see where I tried to go with the “this person” thing at the beginning, instead of just jumping to “she” :). The 135/136 thing is new on me, though. Isn’t he just talking about himself?

    If thy soul check thee that I come so near,
    Swear to thy blind soul that I was thy Will,
    And will, thy soul knows, is admitted there;
    Thus far for love, my love-suit, sweet, fulfil.
    Will, will fulfil the treasure of thy love,
    Ay, fill it full with wills, and my will one.
    In things of great receipt with ease we prove
    Among a number one is reckoned none:
    Then in the number let me pass untold,
    Though in thy store’s account I one must be;
    For nothing hold me, so it please thee hold
    That nothing me, a something sweet to thee:
    Make but my name thy love, and love that still,
    And then thou lovest me for my name is ‘Will.’

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