Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sweets to the sweet

I've been loving, for a long time, the way Shakespeare uses the word sweet.  Two obvious instances.  In Richard II the Queen, puzzled over her own free-floating sadness, says:
                                                   I cannot tell
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief
Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard.
And then Edgar's amazing, ambivalent lament:
                                 O our lives' sweetness
That we the pain of death would hourly die
Rather than die at once.
It's an amazing word for Shakespeare, and tends to come at times of sadness and need: "If you do love old men, if your sweet sway allow obedience, if you yourselves are old," Lear pleas with the heavens. Sweet sway.

And I've been thinking why it's such a good word: because it's great and ephemeral, the experience of tasting, not possessing, and the purer the sweetness the less it's about even the idea of something lasting. It's Ashbery's "charity of the hard moments," but without hardness or charity: the sweetness of the moment, as it "Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself / Unto our gentle senses." It's just for now, but that's pretty great, the way a play can be pretty great.

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