I have heard a few contemporary poets these last few years and wondered if they put any real work into their product. Most of it seems pretty bland stuff, like the inner thoughts of a fellow who can’t find his keys…
I went to the laundry room
To find a pair of socks
I don’t think I had anything in my hand
When was the last time I saw them?
I know I came home last night.
And so on. Modern poetry always leaves me wondering if the wellsprings of inspiration have gone brackish. But what about the Good Old Stuff? I dug out my Shakespeare to see how a good poem should be knocked together. This one is widely believed to be a dandy, though the start is a bit tentative.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Good question! You don’t have to be a great poet to understand that some caution is in order when comparing a woman to almost anything else. Suppose you had a particularly handsome cow to whom you were deeply attached. Suppose further that you were in love with a girl and were trying to woo her with a poem.
Shall I compare thee to a Guernsey cow?
No matter how fond your heart, you would be in serious trouble. Let’s just stick with the summer’s day.
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Let’s hope his intended has not returned recently from Libya, where
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines
The rest of the poem is just to tell the old girl that her complexion and figure will go South and dust to dust and all that. Having reminded the beloved of sweat, mosquitoes and mortality, the great bard signs off by reminding her that in some future age she may be found in volume two, page 1095. He forgets to give her a line in the credits. So here is sonnet xviii in modern English.
I’ll never forget old what’s-her-name
She didn’t sweat much for a fat girl.
But what the heck, we all die don’t we?
Well, except for poets, I guess.