The Shakespeare sonnet below has been in my life since I was 13 and our visionary, absolutely brilliant English (and French) teacher, Mr. Wilson, made us memorize it, long before we could possibly know what it was about.
I tore it apart, sounded it out, learned new words (livery?), and reveled in its rhythms. Sometimes I thought I got it a little bit, and then it would be gone. All I could hear were its melodious tones reverberating in my head because of the way repetition can make the most familiar words strange.
A few years later, I visited my elementary school and Mr. Wilson invited me in to say hello. Without warning, he prompted me to recite the poem. I knew he knew I would still have it memorized. Which I did.
I can hardly believe I’ve reached the impossibly faraway age referred to in this poem, and that it’s still etched so deeply into me.
I love the way the poem asks us to take a look at ourselves as we change, at the nature of change itself. Parts of who we are bound to fall away. This is the nature of things. We become stripped, bare, a gaping, open thing awaiting our discovery.
I love the way Mr. Wilson, one of my foundational teachers, allowed us, in our earliest of teens and barely out of childhood, to play with an unfathomable future, to have a taste before understanding would becomes possible. So that it would.
I thank him from the bottom of my heart for encouraging me to make my own magic out of words, before I really knew how delicious and powerful they could be.
When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, by William Shakespeare
When forty winters shall besiege 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 asked where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasures 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 though coulds’t 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 they blood warm, when thou feel’st it cold.