This sonnet opens with the image of Naden walking along the country lanes between Stratford (William Shakespeare’s birthplace and final resting place) and Shottery (the family home of Anne Hathaway, his wife). Victorian visitors were encouraged to make the short walk, an 1865 guide to the town suggesting that ‘there is something rather romantic in this boy-lover episode in the life of the poet, and one naturally feels a desire to visit the scenes connected with it’, describing Shottery as ‘the very spot on which the boy lover, with all the ardour of a Romeo, pleaded his cause with Ann [sic] Hathaway’ (p. 29). Naden seems caught up in this romanticised version of events, day-dreaming about an eighteen year old Shakespeare courting Hathaway in the picturesque countryside.
The compression of time between Shakespeare’s lifetime and Naden’s own, which began in ‘Stratford-on-Avon, May 14th, 1880’, continues in this sonnet. The ‘dreamful meads’ of 1880 are described as retaining the spirit of the young Shakespeare, who walked the same lanes 300 years earlier. The ‘changeful, yet changeless’ theme persists, the sky-lark’s call quickening her own heart and his.
After the previous sonnet in which Naden played a little with her usual sonnet form, in this poem we are returned to familiar ground; although the rhyme scheme is the same as in ‘Stratford-on-Avon, May 14th, 1880’ there is a marked volta and clear shift in focus in the sestet. While the first stanza engages with the place of a person in relation to natural world, emphasising their fundamental connection, the second stanza shifts the focus inwards to draw out the internal feelings of a poet in love. In the final line ‘nature’ comes to refer to the human spirit rather than the countryside.
In this sonnet we have Naden’s most straightforward description of love, one that revels in the ‘passion of desire, / High hopes, deep thoughts’ of young love without the complicating social factors that mar poems such as the ‘Evolutional Erotics’, or the theme of loss that overshadows ‘Yearning’ and ‘The Abbot’, for example. Since the specificity of place and date encourages the reader to think of this sonnet as a kind of diary entry it is tempting to suggest that the twenty-one year old Naden is projecting her own experience of romantic love onto the figure of the boy-poet. Until recently there was no evidence for such a relationship, however some recent manuscript discoveries dating from the late 1870s indicate that this may indeed be the case.
It is interesting in this context that Naden does not imagine Anne Hathaway herself, who is only an abstract presence in the sonnet. Instead Naden seeks to identify herself with, and draw inspiration from, Shakespeare himself. This speaks to her independence and the sense of intellectual and creative purpose that runs through all her writings. Whether or not Naden’s sense of oneness with Shakespeare stems from a contemporaneous romance on her part, the feeling of ‘boundless life’ that Naden ascribes to the boy-poet is, I think, equally applicable to the effect that ‘deep thoughts’ being given room to ‘live and grow’ were having on Naden herself as she embarked on a career of poetry, philosophy, and science.