I’m not saying Shakespeare solves everything, but there is something about dousing myself in his strange language and soap opera stories that helps me see my own strange world and dramas with a bit more gentleness, peace, and delight. At the very least, sifting through Shakespeare’s language allows me to return to my own stories — the heartbeat of my life.
This year I’m embarking on an ambitious plan to read all of his works — a lofty goal. An adventure I’m not sure I’ll finish. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Tolkien lately, but I’ve become more and more convinced that arriving at an adventure’s end is not the point. I’m here to try. I’m here for the experience.
The first several days of January were devoted to Twelfth Night and at the time of my writing this I can tell you that it is the Fool’s lines that make the most sense to me. I’m not sure what this reveals about me, but I cannot keep track of who is in love with who, who is dead and who is alive, why Malvolio is so hated. I can’t even keep track of who is a man and who is a woman.
“…words are very rascals,” a Fool tells Viola in Act 3. Indeed.
Perhaps I am a fool, but I am not bothered by my lack of understanding. My quest, as I trudge through these plays and sonnets, is to look for lines that “yield up their poetry,” a phrase I read in the Folger Shakespeare Library edition of Twelfth Night. I have been practicing reading poetry for over two years now, and of all my reading and writing habits, poetry is the most luxurious, because it does not ask to be understood, only enjoyed.
Do you go on the rollercoaster because you understand it? Do you walk through the forest because you know every inch of its land and are certain without a doubt that you won’t get lost or hurt?
“Would you have a love song, or a song of a good life?” a Fool asks Toby and Andrew. Both men ask for a love song. “I care not for a good life,” Andrew says.
I’m with Toby and Andrew. Give me the love song.
A foolish idea, perhaps, but I seem to be following the Fool in this story. It is Viola, a lady who’s disguising herself as a boy for various reasons having to do with love and power, who suggests that there is an art to being a fool:
“This fellow is wise enough to play the Fool,
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
He must observe their mood on whom he jests…
This is a practice
As full of labor as a wise man’s art.”
We must be intelligent to play the fool. We must be willing to see and see again — not to understand, but to love. So that “Foolery,” as the Fool says, “goes all about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.”
This week, in your reading, look for phrases that yield up poetry. What can you find and sit with in a challenging story? In a news article? What poetry can you find in a difficult conversation?
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Poetry Prompt. Here’s one from Stephanie Dulli we enjoyed:
Small hand the loveliest shade of pink
But they are raw and painful
She complains while not complaining as I smooth ointment and lotions
Stinging to soothe.
Wash your hands, they said
In her tiny mind that is the key to stay safe.
So she washes. Too much. Too often. She sneaks to wash.
She wants to be safe, to keep us safe.
She fears to touch things,
Her small perfect fingers curling inward to shells
The cats she touches,
Burying her fingers and face in warm fur, black and grey.
She pets and pats.
They purr, she sings
Bright markers she touches
Blue and green and yellow Pollock like marks on her tender skin canvas.
The walls she won’t touch.
Socks, she won’t touch.
When she rests I am the one
Sneaking silently to cover her with Aquaphor,
Smoothing her now bright red gloves.
Together we are still, her asleep, me vigilant.
Drawing soft circles on her skin
Hoping to penetrate her dreams
I hold her little hands, slimy and shiny with medicine, as long as I possibly can
Until she pulls away
Her hand touches the wall.
I hold my breath.
Then, like a portrait of a sleeping girl
she tucks raw skin against her soft cheek.
Nose wrinkling at the smell.
She is safe. For now. I will keep her safe.
Browse more poetry prompts
I have been a fan of Callie Feyen’s writing for quite some time but I finished this book in almost one sitting. If you have ever been in 8th grade, fallen in love, had a best friend, or loved reading, you will love this book. As the mother of an 8th grader, my other genuine hope is that my son will one day have a teacher as gifted as Callie.