The 154 Project

I’m one of 154 poets invited by Live Canon to respond to Shakespeare’s sonnets, in this anniversary year of his birth.  Our poetic responses were published by Live Canon in an anthology and performed at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 24 April 2016.

I responded to Sonnet 7. It’s not a sonnet I knew; I asked Live Canon to select a sonnet for me, wanting the challenge and open to serendipity.  As I’ve been working on celestial bodies, the imagery was appealing.  But the sonnet’s tone and repeated association of the sun with a masculine life cycle irritated me. I particularly disliked the final couplet, which insists that you must have a son to be remembered (to not “diest”).  Daughters, apparently, won’t do.

SONNET 7 (Wm Shakespeare)
Lo! in the orient when the gracious light
Lifts up his burning head, each under eye
Doth homage to his new-appearing sight,
Serving with looks his sacred majesty;
And having climbed the steep-up heavenly hill,
Resembling strong youth in his middle age,
Yet mortal looks adore his beauty still,
Attending on his golden pilgrimage:
But when from highmost pitch, with weary car,
Like feeble age, he reeleth from the day,
The eyes, ‘fore duteous, now converted are
From his low tract, and look another way:
So thou, thyself outgoing in thy noon
Unlooked on diest unless thou get a son.

The dogs howl and household gods shiver
as the sun is dimmed and living colour dies,
a world reduced to black and white – but tides
continue to rise. The moon draws to her
growing seas and awkward monthly pains;
her milky light is gone, yet she covers
the golden sun, casts a shadow over
its flame. Her gravity and mass remain
even when her features disappear;
a stoic lid to the star’s burning light.
Unlike the sun, she will always stay near,
whether full or perilously slight.
Now be glad, dear woman, expectant one,
for a moon-faced daughter – not a son.