Thursday, April 5, 2018

On a tree by a river....

For a long time, I've thought of Othello as a rewriting of Hamlet; it's possibly the next play Shakespeare wrote, and has the same relation to Hamlet as Macbeth does to Antony and Cleopatra, the same symphony of echoes. How then could I have missed till now that the willow song has to be about the death of Ophelia?

She was in love, and he she loved proved mad
And did forsake her: she had a song of 'willow;'
An old thing 'twas, but it express'd her fortune,
And she died singing it: that song to-night
Will not go from my mind.


There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.
And the song itself makes its chorus its own "fantastic garland": "Sing all a green willow must be my garland."

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