Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The sky is saturated with gold. The brilliance is unsettling, a frame for the pulsing glories of leaves and grass. Autumn is a strange lurid beauty.

I woke early with a headache, so perhaps that is skewing my easy pleasure in the colors outside the windows. This morning they seem almost violent.

Here's a rather horrible thought about autumn--from Shakespeare, naturally:
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burthen of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease.
--from Sonnet 97
I have been thinking about Shakespeare lately, mostly because my son is taking a course on his history plays and likes to call me up and chatter about his feelings and reactions. I will say that there is hardly anything sweeter than getting these phone calls: "Mom! Let me tell you about what I'm reading!" But he is struggling with Shakespeare . . . not because he can't understand the dramatic structure, or doesn't enjoy the language, or can't a write a paper about it, or any of those basic issues. As he describes his reactions, I see that he means that there's no respite when he reads a Shakespeare play--no chance to pull back from the experience and digest or even breathe. They are so dense and demanding. A Shakespeare play grabs the reader by the throat and won't let go. Even the comedies are inexorable, but the histories are like doom.

I understand that reaction. Really, when you read Shakespeare, you need to be prepared to fall off an ocean cliff and repeatedly smash your skull against rocks. For me, Othello is the hardest to revisit. Talk about doom. Watching Iago machinate and Othello weaken and Desdemona wander cluelessly around the room is like asking to be crushed in a garbage disposal. It's so painful.

Still, I'm glad he's undergoing the torment, and I know he is too. He seems to have discovered, at college, that demanding work can be a fascination and a joy. Every time I speak to him (and he calls home all the time; it's very funny), he's laying out his plans for self-improvement: he's going to take this or that course, he's going to attend this or that performance, he's going to take part in this or that project, he's going to read this or that play. He never bought into the expectations of high school, but he takes this college seriously. He is surrounded by artists, both masters and apprentices. He feels noticed, and he feels challenged. I am so happy for him.

Orpheus with his lute made trees,
And the mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing:
To his music plants and flowers
Ever sprung; as sun and showers
There had made a lasting spring.
Every thing that heard him play,
Even the billows of the sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.
In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die. 
--from Henry VIII

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