Monday, April 25, 2016

What would the Bard have to say to his many critics if he showed up to mark the 400th anniversary of his death?

You are in good company if you hold Shakespeare in disdain. The roster of famous writers and celebrated personages who have picked quarrels with Shakespeare runs long. Who do you most align with—the poet laureate, Nahum Tate, Voltaire, Tolstoy?

Tate adapted King Lear into a crowd pleaser—giving King Lear a happy ending, restoring Lear to mental healthy and marrying Cordelia off to Edgar. He was of the school of thought that insists on happy endings—no matter what!

Voltaire loved and hated Shakespeare. He translated his works into French and perversely meddled and added his improvements. Voltaire knew what Shakespeare really intended to write.

Tolstoy believed Shakespeare was delusional in his praise of Lear. When you don’t agree with something you can always dismiss it with the conviction the person who holds a different opinion from you is simply delusional.

Virginia Woolf’s disdain follows a more common held belief—Shakespeare had a habit of throwing in a volley of words to disguise “when tension was slack.”

What would the Bard have to say to all of this if he showed up to mark the 400 anniversary of his death? He might answer his critics that even the greatest of writers are “such stuff as dreams are made of, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Poetry is a story that is so good, it doesn’t need complete sentences.

A poem deposits a feeling on my doorstep like no other literary form. I think all too often we put poetry on the living room mantle—to be taken down in times of needing to mark an occasion. I see no reason to save poetry for only solemn moments. There is a poem waiting to celebrate any feeling you can imagine. I suggest not putting poetry on the mantle in the first place—keep it close to you and let it nourish you.

Below are two poems from Stevie Smith. They could not be more different in tone and mood. I love them both, albeit I love them differently, and I want both in my life.

The first poem offers me whimsy~

My Hat
Mother said if I wore this hat
I should be certain to get off with the
right sort of chap
Well look where I am now, on a desert
With so far as I can see no one at all
on hand
I know what has happened thought I
suppose Mother wouldn’t see
This hat being so strong has
completely run away with me.

Stevie Smith also wrote one of the most poignant and terrifying poems of the 20th century, Not waving but Drowning offers me a journey to understand what it means to be much too far out?

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.