William Shakespeare’s birthplace and childhood home. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.
Life is change. There is no way around it. People come into our lives–and leave. We grow up and eventually grow old. Our families change. In the following sonnet, William Shakespeare addresses one of the most important aspects of our lives and relationships–that of love. What he says could apply to most human relationships, it seems to me, but more specifically to the marital one. He contends in Sonnet 116 that true love is not dependent on circumstance or physical attributes. It does not change, or alter, as it “alteration finds.”
Sonnet 116 is perhaps my favorite Shakespearean sonnet as its beauty lies in deep truths as well as the richness of language, a richness I find in Elizabethan English. To me–and this is simply a personal belief–the language of a particular time is the very texture of its writing. I still enjoy the King James Version of the Bible because of its majesty and poetry of language, largely provided by the Elizabethan English it is written in. King James, son of Mary Queen of Scots, succeeded his mother to the Scottish throne and succeeded Elizabeth I of England to the English throne, giving us The United Kingdom and the King James Version of the Bible. The KJV is not a sacrosanct translation as opposed to more modern translations, which some people find easier to understand, but in my estimation, provides more music and sense of awe. But I digress. On to Shakespeare.
Sonnet 116 Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O no! it is an ever-fixed mark That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand'ring bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken. Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me prov'd, I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Here Anne, William Shakespeare’s wife, was born and lived as a child. Shottery, Warwickshire, England.
2 thoughts on “An Ever-Fixed Mark”
The word “Love” fills our lives. It is used to to describe affinity for certain foods, environments, ways to spend time, and a multitude of other ways our senses are bombarded on a daily basis. Our holidays for the most part celebrate it. As children we gravitate to Valentines Day because the cards, their size as well as quantity received and give us an impression of our value.
Shakespeare’s sonnets when mulled over allow one to reconsider “Love” and the desire to discover its meaning with that person chosen to rage against the ravages of time.
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Yes, over time we have cheapened the word love. I often say I love vanilla ice cream. But true love, even in the romantic sense, needs to be understood on a deeper level. Love should not be a throwaway word. “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds.” Love is “an ever fixed mark.”
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