Absence Makes the Heart ... Sad.

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"But if the while I think on thee, dear friend, / All losses are restored and sorrows end" (13-14).
        William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30

The reason this sonnet intrigues me is the ambiguity about the recipient of the poem.  Is the speaker addressing someone he's lost to "death's dateless night" (6), or is he speaking to someone alive but currently away from him?

On lines 3-12, the speaker laments over lost chances and lost friends, suggesting the recipient is one of those lost friends when the speaker changes the tone of the poem in the last two lines, a trademark change in Shakespeare's sonnets.  Since the speaker seems to be strolling down memory lane, it seems like the addressee has also died but the speaker is so grateful he was able to know this person that it makes up for his loss.  As Tennyson later said, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

However, the first line slightly suggests the idea that the addressee is still alive and that he is simply away from the speaker, leaving the speaker in "sessions of sweet silent thought" (1).  The speaker then realizes that he shouldn't be upset about times past, because he has someone to make up for all of it.  Both interpretations are plausible.

PS: I hope I didn't knock anyone out with my amazing title this time.

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2 Comments

Carissa Altizer said:

Oh, my gosh! You know who actually said, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." I had no idea who said that - I just kind of thought it was one of those "as some great person once said..." kind of phrases. Amazing knowledge! I went onto the library's literature resource center (after our lib excursion today) and found a bibliography in case anyone else in interested!

http://reeveslib.setonhill.edu:2635/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&inPS=true&prodId=LitRC&userGroupName=gree87291&tabID=T002&searchId=R3&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=BasicSearchForm¤tPosition=3&contentSet=GALE%7CH1200003729&&docId=GALE|H1200003729&docType=GALE&role=LitRC

Tennyson is one of my favorite poets :) That's why I knew. It's from his poem, "In Memoriam A. H. H." about his best friend, Arthur Henry Hallam. It's quite long, so you might have to wait until winter break to read it if you want to. Thanks for linking to that bibliography! Sadly, it looks like the Literature Resource Center's links expire after you've logged out.

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