Thursday, August 6, 2015

Sonnet 139: O, call not me to justify the wrong - William Shakespeare

O, call me not to justify the wrong
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart;
Wound me not with thine eyes but with thy tongue;
Use power with power, and slay me not by art.
Tell me thou lov'st elsewhere; but in my sight,
Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside;
What need'st thou wound with cunning when thy might
Is more than my o'erpressed defense can bide?
Let me excuse thee: ah, my love well knows
Her pretty looks have been mine enemies;
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
That they elsewhere might dart their injuries -
     Yet do not so; but since I am near slain,
     Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain.

Many of Shakespeare's sonnets deal with the frustrations of unrequited love, and among those, this is one of the most poignant.  Throughout, he begs for the release from not knowing whether or not he is loved.  "Kill me outright with looks and rid my pain" he pleads, unable to bear a tempestuous relationship any longer.  Nearly every line of this poem is a jewel of melancholic brilliance.  "Her pretty looks have been mine enemies" is a particular favorite of mine.

It's worth remembering that at the time Shakespeare was writing, the affectation of melancholy and suffering was considered fashionable and was in high demand at courts.  While a lot of the emotion present here does feel raw and heartfelt, it was also fashionable to be able to beautifully express sorrow in dramatic terms.  The comparisons to death are a classic example of that trend.

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