Thoughts on “The Poems”

So the last forty pages or so of my complete collection of Shakespeare are the poems that he’d written, including his sonnets and two of his more epic — at least in length — poems.  Now, coming into this I knew that this would be a bit of a slog for me, which is why I made it a goal to finish it in one shot.  The first reason is that I’m not a fan of poetry at all, so just on that basis it was unlikely to impress me.  The second reason is that I’m also not a fan of romantic works — in the sense of primarily focusing on romantic liaisons — and obviously the Sonnets fit into that category … but so do the poems, for the most part.  So, yeah, I probably wasn’t going to be that fond of the poems and was definitely going to be unlikely to return to them again and again in the future to experience them.

One big thing that stood out to me here, though, works as a general comment on Shakespeare:  he can be a little … wordy is perhaps the best way to put it.  He will quite often say things in a much longer way than necessary, and often will repeat the same points again in slightly different ways.  The reason that this works for Shakespeare, however, is that he’s very good with those words and so even when he repeats points or lingers a bit too long we can enjoy the creative way he expresses those points.  Ultimately, we can get lost in his use of language which helps us forget that he isn’t saying anything new and is expressing what he wanted to get across using far more words than he needed to.

This really comes across here in the poems, especially in the two longer poems “Venus and Adonis” and “Lucrece”.  For the plays, he is limited in how much he can indulge in this by needing to do far more in a play and having less room than he would in a longer poem because of that.  The sonnets often repeat on a theme, but they benefit from the fact that you were probably never intended to read them all as a completely cohesive whole and so can be forgiven for circling back to previous themes.  But it is clear in the longer poems that he’s repeating his ideas and simply expressing them in different ways and so taking a lot longer to get through the story than he needed to.  And yet, I can easily imagine that if you were invested in the story or were a fan of romances that his expressing these things differently would simply add to the emotional heft of the story and help to build the atmosphere and emotion that that sort of reader would be looking for.  I wasn’t invested in the stories and didn’t care for romance, so I was more hoping for the poem to advance instead of doing that, which meant that I preferred the two shorter poems to those epics … despite the fact that epic ballads are about the only sort of poetry I actually enjoy.

Ultimately, I came in expecting to not care for the poetry and that’s pretty much what happened, but that’s not a criticism of Shakespeare’s abilities as a poet and more a reflection of the fact that if you don’t care for the stories or genres or poetry itself Shakespeare’s abilities with language will not save them for you … and, in fact, will only hurt as his style drags the poems out even more forcing you to experience that which you don’t care for even longer.  Shakespeare is clever with language and if you are engaged with his poetry that will carry you through, but if you aren’t then it won’t and will only drag it out.

The last post on this collection will talk about the collection as a whole.


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