Shakespeare became famous as a dazzling poet before most people even knew that he wrote plays. His sonnets are the English language’s most extraordinary anatomy of love in all its dimensions–desire and despair, longing and loss, adoration and disgust. To read them is to confront morality and eternity in the same breath. The Sonnets and Other Love Poems includes all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, the long narrative poems “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece,” and several other shorter works.
Reading Shakespeare in school is a little bit like being told to eat your greens at the dinner table; they are supposed to be good for you, but as soon as we hit adulthood we chose to give them up. Shakespeare has never felt this way to me, but I did realize recently that my knowledge of his writing was rather one-dimensional, being limited to his plays. I picked up this little book, only 206 pages, decided I would expand my mind, and read the dreaded love poems and sonnets. I was very pleasantly surprised by what I encountered.
Like many modern-day Authors, playwrights and poets who are firmly placed in a particular genre, Shakespeare is stereotyped as a playwright who filled the acts of his plays with doom and gloom, foreboding and dread and, in some cases motivational and uplifting speeches to enthrall and shock his audiences. He covered topics in his plays that would not even be spoken of in polite society today; none of this is apparent in this wonderful collection of sonnets and poems. Given the time period in which he penned this now collection, they filled me with a new respect for this man who, amidst all the horrors that accompany living in the late 1500’s – early 1600’s, could still find beauty and hope in his surroundings. Also, when taken into consideration his poems Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece were written whilst plague ravaged England, it is a true measure of the man’s skill that he ignored these happenings and focused on the human traits of lust and moral confusion to convey his message.
Although appearing first in this book, the sonnets were the last of Shakespeare’s non-dramatic works to be published, and in writing them it appears to the reader that they are actually seeing inside the writer’s soul at what truly makes him tick. In reading this collection it broadened my mind as to who Shakespeare was, and actually gave me a greater appreciation for his works as a whole.
I would recommend this collection to those who love good poetry, but also those who may shy away from anything Shakespeare. This is the kind of book you take on a picnic to the park, and dip in and out of while enjoying the warm sun and a good glass of wine.