Wednesdays With Will – More Than a Couple of Words About the Couplets

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William Shakespeare statue

Shakespeare wrote in what is now called the Shakespearean sonnet form and consists of three quatrains and a couplet. I particularly enjoy the couplets, as, through many of them Shakespeare’s ego shines.

An example is the couplet of Sonnet 18:

So long as men can breathe and eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Without getting into issues of the poet’s claim to provide a form of immortality for his love, this couplet reveals his feeling that the poem will be read until the end of human existence. To Shakespeare, the end of human existence was the Day of Judgment. Similar references to the sonnets’ anticipated endurance are found in many of the couplets, e.g. the couplet of Sonnet 81:

You still shall live, – such virtue hath my pen -|
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

There are a few contradictions to the above observations. The couplet of Sonnet 12 implies that nothing can defend against the ravages of time, including the sonnet.

And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence|
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence

To me, this couplet and a few others are exceptions that prove the rule, i.e. Shakespeare believed his words would be read until the end of time.

Centuries later, the sonnets are being read, studied, and enjoyed. It seems that Shakespeare was correct when he predicted in Sonnet 55:

So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.