25 February 2009

You Should See Yourself Giddy With Shakespeare and Ice-T

I haven't studied biology in more than thirty years. I'll be the first to admit that I don't remember much, and what little I do recall is probably hopelessly out of date. So, take this next statement for whatever it's worth, coming from me: The human body does not convert estrogen into ecstasty, with a lower- or an upper-case "e."

Or does it?

I think I'm experiencing a 48-hour case of what I now call the "girlie giddies." As I was about to start taking hormones, the doctor said I would become more emotional and have mood swings. As if I didn't already! I don't recall the doctor being more specific. What I do know is that I've had some crying jags as well as the girlie giddies.

What has it been about these last two days? I'm not doing anything special, and everything's working out and people want more of it. I was sorry to see the end of yesterday's session of the class I'm taking. I felt like I was watching the credits at the end of a film and I didn't want to get out of my seat. And I felt that way today, too, at the end of the hip-hop class I'm teaching. The time just flew; even the students said they couldn't believe it was over. "We have next week, and ten more," I reminded them.

"Can't wait," one chimed.

"I've never seen a prof on such a roll," another declared.

Actually, they were on a roll. It seemed as if the connection between Shakespeare's Sonnet 30 and Ice-T's Power was the most obvious thing in the world, although, to my knowledge, no one made it before me.

Here's The Bard's sonnet:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

Well, one thing this sonnet proves (at least to me) is that anything Robert Browning did, Shakespeare was doing, more sagely and more elegantly--0r at least in a more intimate way-- two centuries before him. I mean, if you wanted a four-word summary of this poem (if that could do it justice), "Love Among The Ruins" would be a good one. For the first twelve lines, the speaker of the poems is talking about his losses. But, in the tradition of the Shakespearean sonnet, there is a "turn" before the penultimate line. And what do those last two lines say? Well, when I remember you, at least I have something to hold on to. Or something like that.

And the language. Oh, the language! "Then I can grieve at grievances foregone/And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er/The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan/Which I new paid as if not paid before." Just listen to those sounds: the "g" consonances in the first of those lines, the assonance (Yes, he had a real nice assonance!) of "o" sounds in the following lines and the coup de grace of "the fore-bemoaned moan" and "paid as if not paid before." Those "fore"s call out to each other; so do the "moans" which also resonate with the (rhyme of) "foregone" and "woe to woe tell o'er."

Then, just as we think all is lost, we hear that final couplet. In nearly other poet's hands, the "friend/end" would have seemed mundane, or even banal. But here, as the conventional or "weak" rhyme, it actually brings closure and a sort of affirmation. And, as one of my students noted, the "s" sounds in the final line are reassuring, too. Why is that, I wondered. The best answer I have for that is that they are refractions, not reflections, of those "s" sounds in the poems first line. "Sessions of sweet silent thought" is a quieting rather than a quiet sound; it's almost repressive. On the other hand, "All losses are restored and sorrows end" has a more reassuring, if not empowering, sound to it, which comes for the price of all those sad and melancholy sounds in the middle of the poem.

And what of Ice-T's song? Here's a link to the lyrics:


That song is practically an inversion of Shakespeare's sonnet: Through most of it, Ice-T raps about having the trappings of power. But after the "turn"--at "Power starts with 'p'..."--the singer realizes he doesn't have real power after all, at least not in this society.

It was such a joy to see students discovering for themselves what I've just described. It made me even more giddy. One of the students, who took the Intro to Literature class with me four years ago, exclaimed, "You're just lit up! You should see yourself." To which I replied, "No, you should see yourself."

Yes, you really should see yourself.