Monday, August 29, 2005

Poem of the Week 8/29/05: from The Tempest

from The Tempest

Spoken by Prospero

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own;
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confin'd by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got,
And pardon'd the deciever, dwell
In this bare island, by your spell;
But release me from my bands,
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant;
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer,
Which pierces so, that it assualts
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd bem
Let your indulgence set me free.

William Shakespeare 1611

Hello friends and family! I have to say that The Tempest is my favorite Shakespeare play thanks to its whimsy, its energy, its passion, and this farewell. It was Shakespeare's final play, so this epilouge is the last part of a play he ever wrote. A teacher in high school told my class that this can be read as Shakespeare's final bow, a statement which has stuck with me ever since. Even if my teacher's assertion was not true, I find it powerful and relevant to read it as such. Great poetry is what we make of it, and thinking of this as Shakespeare's goodbye personalizes it in a way that Prospero's farewell never could. I get the same feeling reading it as I do listening to Mozart's requiem: it is the final work written by a great man knowing death is imminent.

In the poem, we see some fairly typical Shakespeare devices (with slight variations): iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets. Neither elements are rhetorically significant (other than having been skillfully executed), so we will move on to other things.

It may at first seem confusing that he writes "what strength I have's mine own" when the poem continues about how we must be on his side. I believe he says, instead of "The power is mine - wait - actually it's yours," that his "say," as it were, is done. He has given the world his tools, and it is our responsibility to give them flesh or not. Like Prospero, he can no longer choose to influence the island (which is the world of literature). It is like he has left an empty government with his instructions, and we can fill what seats and enact what laws as we will.

Perhaps more striking in the poem are the fears about death, the good will, and the characterizations of immortality. He says that, by (literally) reenacting his work, we set him free. So, this immortality is a sort of freedom. This threw me for a loop momentarily, because I was always under the impression that freedom and personal choice are synonomous. And yet Shakespeare talks of us having the power to choose where and when he lives again. The answer lies earlier in the poem, however. He could be "confin'd" should we decide to burn his plays and ignore his legacy. So the underlying metaphor is that he will either be caged or free. In dying and losing his work, Shakespeare's consciousness (implicit in his canon), is locked into its own time period. However, should people continute to perform and love his plays, his consciousness is free to roam the earth. It enters our bodies as we act the characters and leaves our mouths when we read his sonnets.

I realize here that I have irrevocably mixed author and speaker, going so far as to claim that Shakespeare's consciousness actually resides in his poetry and prose. I don't make this claim lightly, though I could very well be wrong. There may one day be an earthquake in the PotWs where I actually separate poet and speaker. For now, it is what it is. There is a wonderful essay I have recommended several times before called "Criticism and the Experience of Interiority" wherein Georges Poulet talks of reading as a peculiar act. When you read, he argues, you are astonishingly "thinking another person's thoughts." Thus, a part of the speaker's (and before that the author's) thoughts actually inhabit you. Since you are you and could never be the speaker (or the author), this meeting produces a new, ephemeral consciousness. In this way, a piece of Shakespeare's consciousness enters anyone who says "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo!" and so on and so forth.

So that's all for this week! I think I am going to start including bibliographical information with each poem. The Tempest is fairly standard, so I am going to let this one slide, but look for it in the future. Oh! And I promise that I will eventually get to the Aug. 15 and Aug 22 poems; doing the PotW is much easier at school. It seems a welcome rest from homework rather than actual homework when I am at school. A productive procrastination tool, if you well. So goodnight!

No comments: