I hold this truth to be self-evident that Shakespeare was a genius. A truth reinforced by watching The Globe’s excellent 2018 Hamlet last night (my TARDIS was broken but luckily the lovely Globe folks are putting some of their archive material online).
So, Uncle Bill. Unparalleled as a playwright and prolific as a sonneteer. Damned by faint praise (did you see what I did there?). The majestic Sir Patrick Stewart has been reading Will’s sonnets on Instagram, and his readings are indeed a thing of beauty. The poems? Well for me they do blur a bit. As Sir Patrick comments, Shakespeare revisits the theme of encouraging his object to have a child across the first seventeen sonnets. (Link to the first one here or follow @sirpatstew)
I hesitate to say it, all to aware of the stratospheric gap between Old Bill and my limited gifts, but he does bang on a bit.
Inspired by Sir Patrick I thought I’d bring you something you might not have heard. Check out my Instagram, you’ll find a recording of four sonnets by the early 20th-century poet Robert Nichols. I never hear his name mentioned, and it is possible he has been entirely forgotten.
His book “Aurelia and Other Poems” has a number of “Sonnets to Aurelia”, of which four were selected for the 1936 Oxford Book of Modern Verse. My electronic copy of Aurelia was lost in some forgotten system failure, but the Oxford is a treasured tome I have had for more than a quarter-century (the introduction is by WB Yeats no less).
The selection provides a neat arc, from the first nervous flush of love, through tentative coming together, and then skips to the grounded, temporal nature of love. Love that is lost on death, or through faded memory. And yet, somehow at the end lingers as a ghost.
Go have a listen, let me know what you think. Then go and record your own favourites and tag me back. Introduce me to someone I have never heard of, or your rendition of If. Read aloud and share.
You can find more of my readings here:
An excerpt from Desole Habibti
An excerpt from Like Clockwork
And you can find out more about my writing here