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Shakespeare speaks the truth

Posted: March 18, 2014 8:38 a.m.
Updated: March 19, 2014 5:00 a.m.

One of my favorite poems of all time is William Shakespeare’s “That time of year thou may’st in me behold.” It’s one of Shakespeare’s famous sonnets, one I studied in high school, undergraduate and graduate school. I’ve always loved it because it’s not your typical love poem. It begins, “That time of year thou may’st in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none or few, do hang/Upon those boughs which shake against the cold.”

I always loved those lines because they present such a stark visual of a winter landscape, a barren tree with only a few yellow leaves quivering on its branches. And that is the season that Shakespeare compares himself to -- the winter, the cold time. How surprising for a love poem. Typically, lovers are depicted in the spring, with the flowers blooming and bunnies bounding across the meadow. Everyone and anyone can be in love in spring because it’s so beautiful and fresh and new.

I find it especially interesting Shakespeare ends the poem by saying, “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well which thou must leave ere long.” I read these lines as the poet saying his love for his lover is made even stronger because he knows he’ll have to leave his lover before too long. I suppose what I like most about this definition is it is recognizing the importance of a moment. It’s asserting the fact love exists in a moment and can easily fade in the next.

I think this approach is a good way to think of ordinary moments in our lives. When we treat each moment as though it’s precious and unique, we come to have a greater appreciation for life as a whole. Much the same way Shakespeare said love gets stronger by knowing it could leave you at any moment, our appreciation and reverence for our own lives grows when we recognize the precious, wonderful gift that it is.

Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent with our lives, our families, our jobs, our good health. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how truly blessed and amazing our lives are. I’m certainly guilty of getting bogged down in the trivial day-to-day stress and frustration and forgetting to open my eyes and see the greatness of the world around me, the world in which I am alive and free to do pretty much as I please.

I was recently reminded of this poem when I heard someone complaining about having to color their hair to cover the grays as she grew older. At the moment, I sympathized with her, because everyone who’s alive gets older and most of us want to appear young as long as possible. I’m certainly guilty of searching my roots for gray hairs and sighing a little at each one I discover.

After rereading the sonnet, though, I thought maybe visiting a salon or buying a box of hair dye to color a few grays at home isn’t something to mourn at all. Maybe it’s a moment to cherish because it’s a sign you are alive and you’ve lived through some things interesting and challenging enough to give you a few silver strands as souvenirs. I won’t be so bold as to say don’t cover the grays, because I know I like my dark brown to stay dark brown, but I can try to see the whole process as a joyful experience rather than a dismal one.

I’ve found it’s easy to get downtrodden and depressed and it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, but if you really look around and think about your life -- there should only be gratitude for this moment and the next.

I’ve noticed from time to time it’s hard to keep this in mind and it feels so natural to let negative thoughts stack up, one on top of the other, weighing us down and making ourselves and depression seem like one in the same. But that’s not reality and it’s simply a waste of time to believe that it is. Life is so much better when it’s enjoyed, when it’s savored, when it’s relished. Sometimes it takes a Shakespearean sonnet to remind us what’s what.

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