This is one of my favorite poems. I can recite it from memory, although Dawn tells me that I do it in an especially annoying way. I think maybe I do it in some sort of stylized performance. Or as an acting audition, more likely, probably how my first wife would have. Or how she maybe actually even did, although I seem to remember that she used sonnet number twenty-nine as an audition piece.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste;
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan th’expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.
I remember, not being an especially literate dude, and not speaking French either, being taken a little aback by the phrase in the second line, “remembrance of things past,” when I first read it. Hey, that’s Proust, I said. Only later would I learn that À la recherche du temps perdu is in fact more literally translated, and is more accepted as the English title nowadays as, In Search of Lost Time. I’ve never even tried to read Proust, though. I think Dawn’s said that she’s read Swann’s Way. Anybody else out there Proust fans?
What I love about this poem though is that it’s honest and true in content but also delicious in form. It’s so utterly grandly over-dramatic, describing the mere act of thinking of the past in so tragic of terms. Just remembering is heart-wrenching drama. But that way the present dear friend can then be so greatly contrasted, I guess. But still, I love that “which I new pay as if not paid before,” that totally reliving whatever pain that still lingers.
But then all of this is couched in the beautiful language that Shakespeare could rattle off endlessly, apparently effortlessly. This poem is like candy in the mouth when reciting out loud. It just makes the mouth feel good to recite these words.