Brush Up Your Shakespeare. . .

| | Comments (5)

Context is not everything, but it certainly changes a lot:

Sonnet XCVII: How like a Winter hath my Absence been
William Shakespeare

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness everywhere!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.

I thought about this in the context of my own wanderings toward and away from God. I really like the image of the labyrinth as a metaphor for the spiritual journey. If I keep walking it, I will make it to the center; however, along the way I will have a great many close approaches after which the vagaries of human nature causes me to turn away. Then I am walking directly away, for what seems like a long time before the path switches and I'm on my way back. Human nature is flawed. I think many of us have an approach/avoidance encounter with God. I might get close and then I get scared. I turn away because the cost seems to great--I will be deprived on one or another illicit pleasure. Then, I'm back on track.

This may be why the emphasis of the reign of Pope John Paul the Great appeal to me so much. "Be not afraid." Approach God boldly, as any son who knows that his father loves him will approach his Father. Ask for what you need. Don't be afraid, the only thing you have to lose is your fear. This message resonates in me. In a previous post, I called it marching orders. That's how I view it. I need to break through the labyrinth wall and stop following its arbitrary dictates. Of course, I do not do this alone. Nothing worthwhile is accomplished on my own. Only with God as my shield and help will I be able to withstand the blast that would destroy so strong a wall as makes us the labyrinth in which I walk.

So what has this to do with the poem above. Every moment away from God, no matter how good those moment are, are times of winter wandering, desperately cold and dry. Every moment away from His love--"What old December's bareness everywhere!" Everything done without Him is a falseness, a kind of betrayal--the richness of the widow's womb after her Lord's decease. And yet, isn't even this the promise of what one receives from the hand of a generous God.

Reading, reading anything, can activate the mind in the way few forms of more passive entertainment can do. Shakespeare speaks of his dark lady or lost love, but the Christian who encounters the great poet hears the lament of one turning this way and that in his journey to God. Because we are Christians, context is everything. Every work of art is a cocreation. Because of this, I think we know instinctively when we have encountered art and when we have encountered playtime, mockery, or idiocy. Even those who stood steadfast against God could not create in His absence, and their diatribes and writings are inevitable expositions of Him. From Huysmans La-Bas to Lautreamont's Les Chants de Maldoror, from Joyce's Ulysses to the maunderings of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Heinlein, a gifted writer cannot, despite his own intention, help but reveal the hand of God, because his gift is God-given, and his writing, no matter how overtly directed against God, ultimately shows us who God is, if only as a photographic negative reveals the image.

So, take your pick, Shakespeare, J.D. Robb, Patricia Cornwell, G.K. Chesterton. In the Christian frame of mind you will hear and see things of God. And perhaps one day these things will help crumble the walls of the labyrinth that prevent a direct path toward His glory.

Bookmark and Share


Well said.

Dear Mr. Riddle,

This is a near-pointless comment that entirely avoids the substance of your post, but I've found that God often breaks through in Elizabeth George's mysteries (the only mystery stories I can stomach). He doesn't appear explicitly, but I find her books well worth a read.

And that sonnet was a feast!

Cheers -


Dear Bill,

No, on the contrary, I think your comment gets at the very heart of this post. That is when we look for God or when we are naturally inclined to find God (as Christians) He will make Himself known in the most unlikely places.

For example, I have only recently started listening to country music. I really, really like the female voices and can't much stomach the male. One of the artists I picked up on earliest is Martina McBride. I listened to her most recent album, and every single song seems to suggest God and His activity to me. I was shocked at hearing so much about Him, but I suspect that it is because I earnestly want to hear about Him and the Holy Spirit makes Him manifest. It is not for naught that Jesus told us "Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be answered. . ." When we seek, we inevitably find, and we are often "Surprised by Joy."

Elizabeth George, huh? I don't know that I am aware of her mysteries, although I may be. I'll have to check my shelves. (She isn't also Barbara Michaels, is she? The name suggests a pseduonym of someone I may know under a differ sobriquet.)

Thanks for sharing this. It is perfectly in tune with what I was trying to say.



Thank you Steve for an incisive and moving post. This reminds of a conversation that occurred in my house when I was about 13 years old. I was listening to Rickie Lee Jones's latest record, the magnificent, now classic "Pirates" My older sister, who was in the process of converting to Evangelical Protestantism, came into the room. When I could not contain my awe at the beauty of this music, she said she didn't want to listen to it, and in fact didn't even like the fact that it was playing in a house she was living in. I asked her what was the problem. "The only music that is appropriate," she explained with the most disapproving, school-marmish frown imaginable, "is that which praises God." I will never forget my father, Thomist and Joycean who, although he never "got" rock and roll even at its finest, saying to her, "But honey, doesn't all great art praise God?"

For the record she is now past 40, still an Evangelical, and still holds this aesthetic belief.

I am glad to see that you included some of my favortie (though maundering) writers here. One who seeks the face of God cannot but help but see it almost everywhere - one who does not believe in God cannot see Him even when He is incarnate!



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 13, 2005 7:05 AM.

Andrea Dworkin R.I.P was the previous entry in this blog.

A Trip to the Dallas Museum of Art is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll