Shall I Compare Thee To A Winter’s Night?

I am often deeply amused by what I see around me, and a great deal of that relates to what we are used to.  Shakespeare, for example, in one of his sonnets, compared someone to a summer’s day in the following language:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee [1].

There is a lot, for example, in this sonnet that is not said.  It is telling that in the interpretations of this sonnet that much depends on who one assumes the sonnet is being directed to.  As Shakespeare did not organize his sonnets together nor, so far as we know, provide an explanation for them, we are left to our own devices when it comes to interpreting the sonnet, and what we interpret about the sonnet tells us much about ourselves.  Some, for example, speculate to great lengths about supposed homoerotic tendencies within the sonnet, while others claim that the sonnet was directed to a lady.  The poem itself is ambiguous; it does not specify to whom it was directed, and indeed in the cultured milieu of his time and place it may have been a particularly negative thing for the subject of the poem to have been too obvious or too well known.  Shakespeare, of course, was a married man during the time the sonnets were written, in a world of writers who were notoriously immoral, as many writers have been throughout time–though not all of us, thankfully.  Whoever the author was writing to, there would have been reason for someone to criticize him or worse.  Ambiguity is the defense of someone who does not want to be understood, and in this case we may assume that Shakespeare only wanted at least part of his poem to be understood by the subject of the poem, about whom we have few details except an impression of youth and beauty.

As might be expected, this poem has been parodied.  One poem I particularly appreciate is the following:

Shall I compare thee to a winter’s night?
Like icy snow, the blistering winds doth blow,
Thou art just as cruel, and filled with spite.
Those cold, cruel seeds reaped, in thy soul hath sowed.
Snowflakes fall in attempt to disguise it;
To conceal the menace with pretty lies.
You too, have done likewise, yet won’t admit
The storm that drips snowflakes, from its black skies,
Icy blue eyes, hair like night, and pale skin
Conceived by a blizzard, shaped by the ice.
Thou hath no goal, but for vengeance to win.
Words sting like ice shards, stare seeks to entice.
So long as the earth turns, and man can read
So lives this cruel ode, this cruel ode indeed [2].

While I am certainly no stranger to writing poetry myself [3], I have not generally seen Shakespeare’s poetry as something to parody.  I have written my own sonnets (and other types of poems) in my own voice for my own purposes about my own reflections and observations on the passage of time and death and gloominess and loneliness and other subjects that I can relate to particularly well.  And yet not everyone waxes poetic when it comes to reflecting on the winter and on the icy, chilly blasts we get either from winter storms or from particularly chilly and frigid people whom it is our misfortune to wish to warm up with the flames of love.  And yet people do share the qualities that days have.  A day like this one is full of awkwardness, in trying to make our way along the crunchy ice and fallen snow without slipping and injuring ourselves.  We walk uncertainly, drive uncertainly, and many will try to strenuously avoid doing either of those two things for fear of injuring themselves and others and destroying their property and that of others.  And yet most of us find our way through such circumstances well enough and do not manage to cause trouble for ourselves and others except for the concern and anxiety while we are out and about.

If we sought to compare someone to a winter’s night, what part of that night would we compare it to?  Would we compare it to streets bereft of drivers and only the rare, timid pedestrian who is trying to travel someone with as little fuss as possible?  Would we compare it to the beauty of snow falling outside a window like it falls from a snow globe?  Would we compare it to the cuteness of snowmen with carrots for noses and snazzily dressed in nice hats with scrawny sticks for arms?  Would we compare it to the icy blast of a cold wind chilling us to the bone if we are unfortunate enough to be caught outside on the way from house to car or car to work or some other place?  What comparisons we make, what aspects of a winter’s evening we think of and reflect upon, tell others about ourselves and about what we notice and what details we consider the most salient when reflecting upon ourselves or someone else or life in general.  Just as what we see in what others have written tells others about us by virtue of how we interpret a given ambiguous text–and, to let you in on a trade secret among writers, any worthwhile text is going to be ambiguous in at least some fashion–what we write down in texts does tell others a lot about ourselves, but not always what others see.  Sometimes, the truth meaning of what we write and how we live is a mystery to ourselves and to everyone we encounter, and is only known to God above.  Most of us, though, leave clues like the footsteps in the snow that show the path of someone who walked in the snow and left a mark that will melt away only with the heat of day.



[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Shall I Compare Thee To A Winter’s Night?

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Felicity | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: The Tempest | Edge Induced Cohesion

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