Year in Sonnets

Stratford-on-Avon, May 14th, 1880

The first thing that you might notice about this poem is that despite the subject Naden has chosen not to embrace the Shakespearean sonnet style (which would require a rhyme scheme abab cdcd fefe gg). Sticking with the Petrarchan formula certainly makes the sonnet more in keeping with the rest of the year-in-sonnets cycle, and makes clear that while Naden feels inspired by her proximity to Shakespeare’s grave, she is not interested in pastiche. Readers who are better acquainted with Shakespeare’s sonnets than I may perhaps be able to identify echoes or parallels between Naden’s pair of poems and his famous sonnet sequence – I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve got thoughts on this!

This is also the only poem in the cycle without a clear volta – neither the syntax nor the typography indicates its existence, although the rhyme scheme still breaks after the eighth line. As for the shift in subject or mood that we’ve come to expect from Naden’s sonnets, this is also lacking. Indeed, the central theme of the sonnet as a whole is unity, the phrase ‘round young Shakespeare wove / Their spells’ acting as inspiration for the imagery, and also the rhyme scheme of the final six lines: efegfg comprehensively weaving the lines together.

For a poem about visiting a church and contemplating a grave this is a surprisingly lively and active poem. The first three and a half lines establish the setting, offering due reverence to ‘that blind, silent, lifeless denizen’ that is Shakespeare’s mortal remains; the note that he ‘sleeps within’ a nod to the well-known epitaph that promises to curse any who move his bones. The shift to contemplating evidence of his ‘living soul’ therefore comes unexpectedly, but it is about this that Naden feels inspired to write a poem. Surrounded by the new life that spring has brought to the churchyard, Naden embraces a pantheist sense of the cycle of life and death, returning to the familiar theme that first appears in ‘January 1879’ of the ‘frost and snow’ of winter inevitably giving way to ‘sweet May-time joyance’.

The final four lines provide a sense of how Naden saw herself as a young poet, for surely is hers is one of those ‘fresh hearts, that wake and quiver’. She is not suggesting that she will be the next Shakespeare, but is nevertheless keenly aware that he was just a man who once stood in the same spot as she now did next to the River Avon. The connection with the past is tangible, the ‘rippling, daisy-bordered river’ as ‘Changeful, yet changeless, e’en as life and love’, and she is encouraged by this to embrace the opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

I chose the closing phrase of this sonnet as the name for my blog because it really encapsulates Naden’s view of the world as expressed by her sonnets. Human nature and the natural world run on intertwined life cycles that have been happening for millions of years; each year, each human life is unique, and yet Naden chooses to focus upon the underlying similarities, making connections that are both comforting and inspiring.


5 thoughts on “Stratford-on-Avon, May 14th, 1880

  1. Pingback: A visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, 14 May 1880 | Changeful, yet changeless

  2. Pingback: In the Lanes Between Stratford and Shottery, May 14th, 1880 | Changeful, yet changeless

  3. Pingback: October, 1879 | Changeful, yet changeless

  4. Hi Clare,

    I really enjoyed both these posts and poems. As no one has responded to your call about Shakespearean resonances, I thought I might chip in, though I was only reminded of probably the two most famous sonnets so this isn’t going to be particularly insightful…

    The ‘sweet May-tide joyance’ at the centre of the poem made me think of the ‘darling buds of May’ in Sonnet 18, and might be as good a reason as any to visit Stratford in May, if you’ve missed the chance to go for the birthday weekend? ‘Summer’s lease hath all too short a date’ is quite a doomy way of acknowledging seasonal transience, whereas as you point out, Naden’s much more alive to the continuity between the time when it snows and the time when it’s sunny! Maybe it’s a different take on the opposition between transience and eternity which comes up in a lot of Shakespeare’s sonnets:

    And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
    But thy eternal summer shall not fade


    Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove:
    O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,

    in Sonnet 116. The thing that stands out to me from a Shakespearean perspective I guess is the fact that Naden acknowledges that something can be changeful and changeless at the same time, where Shakespeare seems very keen to set up this opposition between these two states. So at least in 116, love can’t or shouldn’t be ‘changeful’, but Naden admits and relishes the fact that it can; and in 18, the ‘changing course’ of nature is something to regret rather than cherish, and the ‘boughs that do shake against the cold’ in 73 similarly aren’t praised for their autumnal beauty, but kind of freak him out… That’s all I’ve got, but I haven’t actually worked on the sonnets all that much, so it’s probably stuff you have already! Are there any others you were thinking of alongside this?

    I just came across this R. S. Thomas poem today, and the ending seemed to be doing something similar – changeful and changeless nature.



    • Thanks for your insightful and thoughtful comment Richard!

      To be honest, you’ve got a lot further with connecting Naden’s Stratford poems with Shakespeare’s sonnets, since it’s something I’ve only written about on my blog (though it may end up being part of my final chapter…). I’d thought of the ‘buds of May’ reference but not much else, my Renaissance lit being a bit rusty. I like the idea that Naden is challenging Shakespeare’s (i.e. the usual) opposition between transience and eternity, since the uniting of binaries is a theme that is central to all her work

      Also many thanks for pointing me towards the Thomas poem – I’ve never come across his writing before. It’s a lovely poem, and certainly resonates with Naden (here and elsewhere).


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