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I apologise because I have not had as much time as I thought to find these poems. However here they are separated by some 300 years one by Shakespeare and one by Elaine Feinstein who was born in 1930.

 

I hope you enjoy them.

 

Sonnet LXXIII.

 

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold”

 

 

THAT time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day 5

As after sunset fadeth in the west;

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 10

As the death-bed whereon it must expire

Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting older

 

The first surprise: I like it.

Whatever happens now, some things

that used to terrify have not.

 

I didn’t die young, for instance. Or lose

my only love. My three children

never had to run away from anyone.

 

Don’t tell me this gratitude is complacent.

We all approach the edge of the same darkness

which for me is silence.

 

Knowing as much sharpens

my delight in January freesia,

hot coffee, winter sunlight. So we say

 

as we lie close on some gentle occasion:

every day won from such

darkness is a celebration.

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First thoughts:

 

Although they are ostensibly about aging, both poems sem to hold a preocupation with approaching death.

 

Although on first sight the Feinstein seems to be a celebration of the small details of life I think this is the sadder poem.

 

In the Shakespeare, the poet sees death as a natural fading, like a sunset, or cooling embers. It would seem that he is already recognising the signs of his approaching extinction, and also recognises that the love his beloved feels for him strengthens as he weakens.

 

In the Feinstein I feel that death, although more distant, is a much more menacing presence,

Initially the assertion that it is just 'silence' would seem synonymous with 'peace', except that a poet needs words, and so the idea of silence for eternity must be quite terrifying.

 

All the little things that are celebrated here have to be 'won' from this silence/darkness, so everything must also be tainted by the certainty that eventually this fight with death for even the smallest pleasure will be lost.

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Some first thoughts from me as well:

 

I confess I really struggled to make sense of the Shakespeare at first :o - I'd forgotten quite how much concentration I need for him, and tried several times to read it with only 75% attention and failed miserably.

 

But I made it in the end - hurrah!

 

I found it bleaker and bleaker as it went on, in the way the images affected me, from bare, silent trees to night as "death's second self" to youth being consumed on it's death bed...but that made the final two lines astonishingly powerful. Love becoming ever stronger, after all that darkness, made me gasp with shock and relief, it was amazing.

 

The Fernstein felt very different at first - which was at least in part because of the conversational style of the writing, having battled to make sense of the sonnet. I loved the first line - it made me smile with it's simplicity - and I too shared in her surprise. I'm still thinking about the middle bits. On first reading, I found it rather less bleak than the Shakespeare - so, the other way round from megustaleer.

 

I was interested to note that like the Shakespeare, it started off with a single speaker, but in the last few lines changed to reflect on a relationship and how that too was impacted by aging.

 

I don't know anything at all about Elaine Fernstein, but I'd like to remedy that!

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Have spent some time thinking about the main difference I felt there was between the two poems.

 

To me it sems that in the Shakespeare the poet seems closer to death, both in terms of physical deterioration, and in acceptance, whereas in Feinstein's poem I see someone who, having accomplished the human goal of raising a family without any of the misfortunes or disasters that threaten to jeopardise the process, has now reached some sort of summit where she can snatch a brief rest to enjoy the freesias and the coffee, before heading inevitably towards the edge of darkness.

 

Whilst trying to find out when this poem was written (I think it was in the early 90s when Feinstein was in her early 60s) I found a clip of her reading it. I cannot say it helped my understanding!

 

I have also been musing on the possibility that both poems were written about people of similar ages,. Sixtyish isn't considered old these days (well, not by me it isn't), whereas I should think it was pretty elderly in Shakespeare's day :D

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I'm very interested in your second paragraph, megustaleer. I'm off to reread the poems with that comparison in mind.

 

I was intrigued as to whether people discussing these poems would differ in their responses according to their own age - but everyone seems to have vanished.....

 

Where have you all gone????

 

Are other folks reading the poems but haven't got round to posting a response yet? Or have they not noticed that a new thread has started? (Or have megustaleer and I inadvertently frightened them all away with the depth of intelligence in our posts :P )

 

Very mysterious :confused:

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Are other folks reading the poems but haven't got round to posting a response yet? Or have they not noticed that a new thread has started? (Or have megustaleer and I inadvertently frightened them all away with the depth of intelligence in our posts :P )

 

Or are people reluctant to talk about 'the last taboo'?

 

I work in a care home for 'vulnerable adults' (previously called 'frail elderly'), many in their eighties, nineties, and above, so death is a normal subject of conversation for me.

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Are other folks reading the poems but haven't got round to posting a response yet? (Claire)

I, for one am reading and following – it’s just that I wasn’t sure whether anybody can join any group, so I was holding back. So far I’ve posted wherever took my fancy, but I’m still not sure if some groups need ‘joining’. I guess I’m joining.

 

 

I apologise because I have not had as much time as I thought to find these poems. (Elfstar)

No need to apologise Elfstar - these make a lovely pair. As has been said already, they have many similarities and there are also subtle differences.

 

 

I found it bleaker and bleaker as it went on, (Claire)

Yes, stating the same point in three different extended metaphors does rather drive home the coffin nails, but Shakespeare is building these illustrations to show us something else. He is in the autumn of his life, the twilight of his life, the glowing embers of his life. In all three pictures the next stage is death: winter, darkness, extinguished fire.

 

Twelve lines of this sonnet seem to justify your ‘bleak’ verdict, but then he reveals his message. His lover ‘perceiv’st’ his condition, but this has the opposite effect from the one we might expect. As Megustaleer said

the love his beloved feels for him strengthens as he weakens. (Megustaleer)

This love strengthens because his lover sees his present condition but also notices that it is built on all that went before. The birds can only migrate because they were there once; their silence only apparent because they did sing. The sun can only set because it once shone. The fire can only die down and extinguish because it once burned brightly and indeed the glowing embers actually lie on top of the ashes that were once the fuel of vigorous life and now support his flickering existence.

 

She sees his history and his present as one. Old Age happens but he is the same person, probably the man she has known and loved for years. She knows that he will soon be gone and loves him for all he is worth.

 

The twelve lines should spell desolation, but the last rhyming couplet gives dignity to the old and to death.

 

 

Similarly, with the Feinstein poem, I can understand Claire’s reaction.

I loved the first line - it made me smile with it's simplicity - and I too shared in her surprise. (Claire)

This is a brave proclamation. It is disarming and promises an open acceptance of old age and death, but this doesn’t come to fruition. At best, it turns into relief that she has made it so far. However, she has thought it through and, like everyone else, has had to accept that death is the next stage. Her metaphors are of silence and darkness, two of Shakespeare’s images and yet I feel a quiet desperation here, someone facing a cut-off rather than nature’s end. I love Megustaleer’s idea of silence to a poet.

a poet needs words, and so the idea of silence for eternity must be quite terrifying. (Megustaleer)

 

As in the Shakespeare there is a heightened sense of value and the appreciation of this seems similar, until it is defined as ‘won from such darkness’ The acceptance claimed at the opening is finally reduced to clawing at time and wresting small trophies.

 

Do you want the good news first or the bad?

 

Shakespeare starts bleak but produces a gem of powerful acceptance shining in the darkness. Feinstein starts in a bright blaze of celebration but looses this light in dark insecurity. Curiously, the dark tone of the former and the airy tone of the latter add to the mystery of both.

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Some interesting thoughts there, I was beginning to think everyone had disappeared!!

 

I suppose that they do both look towards death but I find it refreshing that both find things to enjoy something many people seem to find impossible to do at the best of times!

The Feinstein reminds me of some of my "passions" the first hyacinths in spring, (freesias are too much cultivated these days to have that impact), Evesham asparagus, English strawberries things that show the passing of the seasons and bring their special joy with them enhanced by that fleeting season, knowing that it will be a year until they appear again.

 

Or is that too shallow. :D

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Or is that too shallow. (Elfstar)

 

Not shallow at all.

 

I don't think there is a right and wrong way of interpreting poetry. Whether or not a poet had a particular message in mind, poems are written in such a way that the reader unravels the layers he or she finds. I love 'The Secret' ,where Denise Levertov is writing about her poem being read.

 

'Two girls discover

the secret of life

in a sudden line of poetry.

 

Iwho don't know the

secret wrote

the line. ........ (and it gets better.)

 

 

I also believe that, quite often, we each see a part of the picture. By sharing, we see it more wholly, but I doubt that the jigsaw is ever complete. I love it when someone points out something, that is obviously and equally as true as that I have seen myself, but from a totally different perspective ............. oops, I am preaching to the converted here: you set up this thread!

 

I had empathised with the sharpened delight of the freesia, coffee and sunlight, but hadn't even noticed them ascribed to January and winter. You have brought out a seasonal reference contrasting with Shakespeare's.

 

...and my mouth is watering for asparagus.

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I loved your first post Angel (not that I hated the others or anything, but it was your first one that struck me!)

 

I haven't had much time to spend on here recently and when I have there's been tons of noise going on in the background - I need SILENCE when I'm thinking about poems!

 

I just wanted to let you know I thought your analysis of the poems was spot on and summed up exactly what I thought of them while at the same time pointing out some things I hadn't thought of. Thanks for your thoughts!

 

On first thought I too thought he Fernstein was the most uplifting, but it really isn't - it's quite deceptive to the reader, which also suggests the author could be deceiving themselves.

 

The Shakespeare uses bleaker language and comparisons, but like angel said, he seems to have a more accepting attitude towards death than Fernstein.

 

The speaker in the Fernstein seems to have lived in fear of something bad happening and can only now relax because it hasn't, but realises it's only a short time she has to do this before death, whereas the speaker in Shakespeare seems to refer to a more happy carefree life (the line about birds singing) and a calm acceptance...the speaker in SHakespeare hasn't been obsessed with death throughout his life, whereas I get the feeling that the speaker in Fernstein has been.

 

I don't have time to write much more, sorry what i've written was so rushed, but I really liked the choices Elfstar, and I will probably come back and have another look at them when I have more time.

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I was just thinking about these poems a bit more while I was doing the housework and I would be interested to know which poem people identify with more, not necessarily which one you prefer.

 

I prefer the Shakespeare, but I think I identify most with the Feinstein. I think this might have a lot to do with what age you are - I'm not scared of ageing or death, but what I AM scared of is getting old or dying before I have had time to accomplish something, done something worthwhile with my life. I don't think this is exactly what Feinstein's getting at, but it's what it made me think about. There might be something nice about being old and having a lot of your life behind you, knowing how things turned out. My life seems to be stuck at a crossroads just now and I'm feeling a bit apprehensive about things!

 

What about the older people, do you identify with Feinstein or Shakespeare? Anyone my age agree with me?

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Interesting question!

 

I feel as though I am the oldest BGO member (at least, no-one has owned up to being any older:D), but even so I'm not sure that I'm old enough to answer you.

 

We of the 'Baby Boom' generation are refusing to age. Elaine Feinstein was born in 1930, which makes her nearly old enough to be my mother. That generation, and those before had quite distinct age groups, so could see their lives moving from one stage to another. I have no such sense of time, and of my life passing, so don't identify with her.

 

Nor do I identify with the Shakespeare, but I hope to one day, for there is a sense of a life whose purpose is fulfilled and who approaches the end with the feeling of completion.

 

I started to answer this early this morning, then had to go out. I've just wiped it all out and rewritten it without looking to see what anyone else has written, so I won't be influenced!

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  • 1 month later...

I've been rather belatedly catching up with this amazing discussion.

 

Like many other readers, I was initially taken with the Feinstein and found it an affirmation of aging without menace - words like surprise and celebration confirmed this. However, reading Megustaleer's comments I must admit I looked at it with new eyes. I do like the way it accepts the pleasure to be taken in small things - after all, sometimes that is the best that life can offer at any age - but I think the reading that sees beyond this veneer of optimism and actually draws out its anxieties (I really like Megustaleer's point about the silence) is interesting. Nonetheless, I do still think that the poem is about stoically accepting the realities of life because that is all we can do and that is the nearest we can get to any kind of celebration - as such, I can relate to the poem at any age. Or perhaps I'm just a miserable so and so.

 

It is interesting that both poets focus on the experience of life itself and neither give any hope in an after-life. I found it hard to find any religion in them and see both as great humanist poems. The love that transcends everything in the Shakespeare I see primarily as a human love and I think both poems ultimately affirm what it is to be human.

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