SONNET XXIX (William Shakespeare)
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf Heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Trying to remember a first introduction to Shakespeare is bound to be tricky. I think that there may have been a book of adaptations for children from the library, at some point, but I don't remember it setting me alight with enthusiasm. I have the faintest memory of my parents taking us to a showing of Laurence Olivier's version of Henry V when I was very young. Apparently I loved it, but I really don't remember.
Junior high school is where most of us were thrown in the deep end with Shakespeare, at least in Canada: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet (the former for me), and some sonnets. I fell in love with Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, and with Kenneth Branagh, as did all the grade 9 girls. I then went on to study Hamlet at least three times, but that was later. Seeing it in the West End with Jude Law a couple of years ago, I realised that I still knew Hamlet nearly off by heart and was mouthing the words along with the actors.
But returning to junior high: in grade 8, I had Mr Bradley as an English teacher. Mr Bradley was loud. He liked to bellow. Across the hallway was another teacher who liked to screech, so it was an interesting duet, at times. I enjoyed Mr Bradley's class. In general, I think that I was very fortunate to have English teachers who may not have reached great heights of inspiration, but who encouraged my writing and created a stimulating environment for all of us.
At some point in the course of my semester with Mr Bradley - I think it was only one semester, not an entire year - we had to memorize a poem to recite to the class. I don't remember a great deal of the other students' choices. I am fairly sure, though, that someone chose Jenny Joseph's 'Warning': "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple..." Although I like the poem, at the time this really was not my cup of tea. I would probably have gravitated toward the Romantics, maybe a bit of Yeats, and Shakespeare. I chose Shakespeare's Sonnet XXIX.
I doubt that my delivery was anything spectacular, but I do specifically remember that Mr Bradley was very pleased by my choice. (I didn't try to be a teacher's pet, but apparently I was a natural.) He said of Sonnet XXIX, and I quote: "That's a poem that you will have with you for the rest of your life."
Well, Mr Bradley...it turns out that you were absolutely right. Twenty years have gone by, and I still know the poem off by heart, effortlessly. I have recited it in some really odd settings, just because. One of my party tricks is reciting it at lightning speed. Perhaps this is why I don't get invited to that many parties. But I'll always have Sonnet XXIX.