Thursday, September 17, 2009

Poem of the Day: "When Forty Winters ..."

As if to defy the reality of my ever-narrowing tilt down the slide of another multiple-of-ten birthday, I hereby present one of Shakespeare's meditations on aging:

William Shakespeare, Sonnet #2.

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

Nietzsche ran with the same idea, or the spirit of it, or perhaps a perverse exaggeration of its spirit, in "Child and Marriage" from Thus Spake Zarathustra (excerpt):

I have a question for you alone, my brother: like a sounding lead, I cast this question into your soul that I might know how deep it is.

You are young and wish for a child and marriage. But I ask you: Are you a man entitled to wish for a child? Are you the victorious one, the self-conqueror, the commander of your senses, the master of your virtues? This I ask you. Or is it the animal and need that speak out of your wish? Or loneliness? Or lack of peace with yourself?

Let your victory and your freedom long for a child. You shall build living monuments to your victory and your liberation. You shall build over and beyond yourself, but first you must be built yourself, perpendicular in body and soul. You shall not only reproduce yourself, but produce something higher. May the garden of marriage help you in that!
I prefer the translation that says "square-built" rather than "perpendicular," but I'm not sure which translation that is, and I don't have it handy.

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