Shakespeare and the Weather, take 1

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day, And make me travel forth without my cloak, To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way, Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?“Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke
?”

(SON 34)

Comment.  Here in the US Northwest, the month of May 2013, now to a close, has defeated the customary expectations of Spring. Nothing, of course, compared to the horrific storms in tornado alley, but there is diffuse grumbling about.

The lines from Sonnet 34 are more or less applicable, though for most of the month there has never been the promise of a beauteous day. The rest of most days was consistent with their gloomy beginning.

But the human soul is always impatient for novelty, and always struggling for something yet unenjoyed. As Dr. Johnson would say, “the world seems to have been eminently adapted to this disposition of the mind: it is formed to raise expectations by constant vicissitudes, and to obviate satiety by perpetual change.”

In fact, wherever we turn our eyes, we can find something to revive our curiosity and engage our attention. In the morning we watch the rising of the sun, the day diversifies the clouds and opens new prospects. Later, the shades lengthen and the light decline. The earth itself varies its appearance as we walk upon it; the woods give their shade and the fields their harvests. The hill offers an extensive view and the valley invites with shelter, fragrance and flowers.

The poets have numbered, among the glories of the Golden age, an exemption from the change of seasons. But are we certain that in this state of imaginary happiness they have taken into account that insatiable demand of new gratifications that characterizes the nature of man? Our sense of delight is in great measure comparative, and arises at once from the sensations we feel and from those we remember.

Therefore, if this May 2013 behaved more like a month of Winter than a month of Spring, we may perhaps remember those other lines from another sonnet,

“Or call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome thrice more wished,
More rare.”

In the Sonnet: We are dealing with metaphors. The sun is the fair lord, subject of many of Shakespeare’s sonnets. In promising “such a beauteous day,” or assuring him of his love, the fair lord encouraged the poet to “travel forth without my cloak.” That is, to let his guard down and become vulnerable, unprepared for the equally metaphorical bad weather that was to come. Be it as it may, I prefer to read the lines as an example of inaccurate weather forecasting.

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