These present-absent: how I memorized all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and deleted most of my blog photos

Last week my boss announced it was time to clean out our offices.  She was serious enough to go into my meeting calendar and mark all the open time slots as busy, so I had no excuse to put it off.  (While everyone in my department received the same directive, as the office slob I know it primarily intended for me and the avalanche of paper on my desk and the tumble of cast-off shoes underneath it).  I filled a recycling bin, made trips to the shredder, and in the final stage of excavation of my desk drawer, underneath the forgotten snacks, reusable shopping bags and errant paper clips, I found them, the sonnets, cut up into portable squares that must have fallen from my backpack pockets.

At least a decade ago, though I’m not certain when, I made up my mind to memorize all 154 sonnets by Shakespeare.  Memorizing poetry was my hobby and I was good at it.  For all my weaknesses (and being a slob is just one of many) I can still claim that I once had an excellent memory.  I didn’t need to make grocery lists, write down phone numbers or do much studying for tests in school.  By paying attention I could learn easily and retrieve a lot of information on demand.  I liked the process of sticking poetry into my head, how phrases or whole poems would come to me at off moments.  If nothing else, poetry was an antidote to musical ear worms, which I am susceptible to, particularly from those 1980’s pop songs on heavy rotation in grocery stores.

I learned Shakespeare’s sonnets while walking, so I associate the iambic pentameter of his verse with the rhythm of my footfalls.  In the space of a 15 minute walk to work, with a second run through on my lunch hour walk, I could have a sonnet memorized, maybe with a “thee” or “thou” out of place, but essentially all there in my head to retrieve at my pleasure.  Shakespeare’s language tickled me, with his unexpected combinations of words—what could be sexier than lascivious grace (Sonnet 40)?  Or more lush than unthrifty loveliness (Sonnet 4)?  Why would I ever want to be merely sad, when I could trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries (Sonnet 29)?

In his sonnets, Shakespeare is the supreme craftsman, with both ambiguous that somehow often seem to both universal in theme but also specific to my own life.  During a time when I felt stigmatized by my job working in customer service, Sonnet 111 had me complaining along with Shakespeare that fortune did not better for my life provide/ Than public means which public manners breeds./Thence comes it that my name receives a brand/And almost thence my nature is subdu’d/To what it works in, like the dyer’s hand.  After unsuccessfully trying to understand the basics of quantum physics (how can something be both a particle and a wave?) Sonnet 45’s These present-absent with swift motion slide taught me more about wave function than a popular physics text.  Sonnet 44’s nimble thought can jump both see and land was a siren call to my budget travel fantasies.  Ladies, are you experiencing street harassment?  If so I recommend public sonnet memorizing as self-defense.  Even the most relentless sexual harasser will avoid a woman muttering sonnets to herself on the sidewalk.  [You may find it comforting that by the time you reach the age of 40, having passed by the ambush of young days (Sonnet 70) you’ll become invisible to street harassers and resume living without unsolicited public appraisals of your body parts].

I succeeded, more or less, in memorizing 154 Shakespeare sonnets.  Sure, I’d need to refresh my memory on occasion, with scraps of printed sonnets in my coat pockets, but it was time for me to spend time with the works of other poets too.  Who knows how long that would have lasted, the walking and poetry memorizing, if it weren’t for insomnia.

For more than four years I’ve had incurable insomnia.  The details are tedious and best left to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 28 for explanation: How can I then return in happy plight/ That am debarred the benefit of rest?/ When day’s oppression is not eased by night, /But day by night and night by day oppressed.  Insomnia has butchered my memory and my attention span.  I no longer memorize long poems or slide through life with my bright mind easing the way.  For years I was a painter with an iron discipline, laboring six months on a single work.  When I lost my attention span and ability to paint along with it, I started this blog to have a feeling of accomplishment, to connect with people who like me, love to travel for culture.  It worked.  I love writing Picnic at the Cathedral.  I love interacting with other bloggers and helping people travel cheap.  I can write when my attention span allows and though the insomnia often makes it challenging for me spell and put together sentences, I try to power though and rely on my still robust sense of humor.

Two nights ago I was distracted, worried about HOB’s health, and of course, tired.  I sat down to upload photos onto my blog site for a new post and got a message that I was out of media space.  Oh well, no big deal, I would just delete the photos in the media library and add more.  So I hit “bulk delete” and clicked away and soon enough had plenty of memory for new photos.  Not until lunch break at work yesterday did I realize that this also deleted the images from my blog site as well.  Apparently this can not be reversed, so now I have a busted blog.

People like me don’t get to wallow, so I did what I always do this morning: fed the cat, got dressed, and went to work.  On my morning walk I was surprised to find myself reciting a Shakespeare sonnet:

Sonnet 64

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defac’d
The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed
And brass eternal, slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate —
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

 

 

Advertisements

35 comments

  1. Please don’t stop posting on this blog. Shakespeare is still in you. Your humor is still sharp and clear. And there are still so many more picnics to be had at the cathedral. HOB

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So it turns out that I have to royally screw up my blog images for you to finally comment on one of my posts? You owe me a bi bim bop buddy!

      Like

  2. Please do not stop, your travels and writing are wonderful. You could go back to each post and insert one or two photos, if you have them on your PC. I did, as I was running out of space, I made most of my photos smaller, it took a while, but I got there in the end. Anyway you should always go forward and wallowing is such a waste of time, as you have pointed out in a way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words and good advice blosslyn. I do so look forward your gorgeous photos of the Fens. And yes, I agree, forward!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement Rotwein Wanderer, it means a lot!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If it’s any consolation, although I like looking at your pictures, it is always your words I enjoy the most. Memory is such a funny thing, mine too is not as good as it used to be but all the stuff we put in is in there somewhere and comes out when we least expect it, like sonnet 64.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That does make me feel better, thanks for being so sweet Profusion of Eccentricities. I really enjoy your writing as well. While I was responded to your comment my internet connection cut out several times (you guessed it, I bought the cheap laptop) and I have to keep restarting the computer. It feels like an appropriate metaphor for my memory at the moment….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Seconding that insomnia sucks (4 years? aiieeeee) and nth-ing that your blog is fantastic with or without pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Zoe. Your blog makes me long to go back to Northern Italy, which was the first place I ever traveled and my lifelong travel crush. Yeah, four years is a long time, but we’ve all got something, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was just wondering if I should clear my library! Now I know what would happen. Knowing you, I’m betting you will figure out a solution and share it with us all. At least you must have your original photos on a chip or some such. Meanwhile, you have your Shakespeare. Worth noting: old Will write those sonnets, and you memorized them, without the “benefit” of any pesky pixels or bytes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kindness Claudia. If anything comes out of this I hope I at least keep someone else from the photo deleting catastrophe. I guess if you fill up your space you should purchase a premium service. I do have most of the original photos, but getting them back out and in order would be a time commitment I can’t make. Time to move forward! And yes, I’ll always have Shakespeare. I’m so glad I speak English so I can enjoy him in my native language.

      Like

  6. And I’m thinking of both you and HOB, hoping all will be well.

    Like

    1. Thank you again. Getting HOB to the doctor is like putting pants on a chicken.

      Like

  7. NOOOOOOOOOO!!! I’m so sorry! I have nightmares about “breaking” my blog, even though it’s a time sink, a money pit, and I can’t count how many times I’ve been in tears trying to figure out why my site is slow despite optimizing my images or how to “Minify JavaScript”. The compulsion to pour oneself creatively into a blog is such a peculiar need, but I second the others when they say, “Don’t stop writing!” Yours is one of the few blogs I actually read with regularity – for your content, literary style, and humor. I don’t know the details of HOB’s health issues, but I hope he’s on the mend soon and that sleep finds you.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot Carrie for helping make a crappy week better—I do so enjoy your blog as well and if you know what JavaScript is, you’re already way ahead of me. Thank you also for your concern about HOB. He’s had some tests and now has to go back to more doctors—hey, at least he has great insurance. Can you get on the EU healthcare in Germany?

      Like

  8. Please do not stop writing and sharing with us about your trips! I really enjoy your blog, I have to say is one of my favorites. I love your sense of humor and all the amazing places you visit!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you unodiasen. Your blog is super also and I’m so envious about how you write in two languages (just the one is sometimes too complicated for me!).

      We do have a couple of amazing trips in the near future, so stay tuned.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. As always a lovely post but on this occassion, a lousy punchline!
    Such a shame (understatement) to lose your blog photos but your writing is what brings me back.
    Hope HOB is on the improve.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you browney237—I’m finding your life (getting a PhD, slow travel and writing a blog!) a motivation to be sure. I’m keeping an eye on HOB but he’s sneaky and tries to hide his symptoms.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Deleting old photos in order to make space for new ones has been something I do every couple of years. Until now I’d associated this with Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book 6:

    There is a Cave
    Within the Mount of God, fast by his Throne,
    Where light and darkness in perpetual round
    Lodge and dislodge by turns, which makes through Heav’n
    Grateful vicissitude, like Day and Night;
    Light issues forth, and at the other dore
    Obsequious darkness enters, till her houre
    To veile the Heav’n.

    Except that the mount of god did not quite seem to describe a hard drive. On balance Shakespeare seems more suited to everyday life than Milton.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ha! A vengeful God wielding faulting routers to the sinners and gigabytes to the faithful–that’s a religious image I can identify with. Thanks for finding such a compelling quote from Paradise Lost. I’ve struggled with that book. When I read it again a couple of years ago it still seem like the book they give high school kids to make them hate literature for life. My favorite Milton is his poem, On His Blindness (a sonnet, naturally):

    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one talent which is death to hide
    Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest he returning chide;
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?
    “I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
    Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

    Like

  12. Oh no! Well, for what it’s worth, I’ve always thought your words were worth a thousand pictures. So please keep writing! You write with such joy and humor, your posts always make my day. I hope HOB feels better soon, and I look forward to your next post, with or without pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That means a lot coming from you, as a rabid fan of The Reliquarian blog. It’s hard for me to understand art history and architecture without images, but I’m glad to hear that words are worthwhile too. Thanks so much for helping make a crappy week better!

      Like

  13. WOB, oh please keep blogging. You are a such a talent with words (and images)! Memorizing the sonnets. How clever!

    Here is a sonnet on love by Lin-Manuel Miranda in case you missed it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kindness, theartonthewall. I can’t take credit for cleverness, only persistence. Love love love the Lin-Manuel Miranda sonnet!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Since I don’t the cause of your insomnia, not sure if you have tried cognitive behaviour therapy. This is by a sleep researcher: http://judithdavidson.ca/about-the-book/ I actually saw a sleep doctor locally a few times…this is after my cycling accident. I had a concussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jean, that’s a good suggestion. I did a 12 week cognitive behavioral therapy course on sleeping that taught me to some helpful things (and made me mad because they won’t let you read in bed which is my favorite thing ever). It didn’t cure my insomnia though. I’ll check out the book and feel happy that at least I don’t have a concussion!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This is the first post of yours I’ve read (I was searching ‘Shakespeare’). I’m so sorry, that must be absolutely gutting! I have suffered very severe insomnia in the past, and I deeply sympathise.

    I am actually memorising the Sonnets myself (and totally embarrass my kids when reciting them to myself in public), and strangely enough, Sonnet 64 is the most recent one I memorised!

    My own blog might interest you ( versemeter.wordpress.com ). I go into very thorough detail on the mechanics of iambic pentameter (very few people understand meter as well as they think!), and I concentrate in particular on Shakespeare’s work – including a thorough analysis of his opening sonnet (Sonnet 116 is the next one I’ll be working on!). I’ve recently done a lot of work on the posts I already have, in preparation for writing new ones, so as somebody who’s memorised the whole sonnet cycle, I’d be really intrigued to hear your feedback!

    Take care, and I hope one day soon you find a way to beat your insomnia! (For me, ASMR videos on youtube were a great help. They don’t work for everyone, but I guess you could give them a try!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words keir Fabian. I apologize for the delayed response—-I’ve been in Albania without much internet time.

      I look forward to following you as you memorize the sonnets and analyze the meter. Do you have a favorite sonnet yet?

      Also, thanks for the tip on ASMR youtube videos. I’m looking into that right now.

      Like

      1. You’re welcome – and forgive me for the delayed response back!

        I am astounded that Donald Trump has been elected your President – I am so sorry!!

        I’ve been reading some of your beautifully written posts: I’ve done very little travelling myself, but love reading about other places, people and cultures. I also love medieval art and architecture, and the Apocalypse tapestry is something I would really like to see up close!

        Favourite sonnet? I don’t think I could narrow it down to one, and I might have different favourites at different times. There are also many sonnets which add to the texture and interest of the sonnet sequence as a whole, but taken out of context as a stand-alone sonnet would never be anyone’s favourite.

        Sonnet 5 is one of the most beautiful (and also contains one of the most enchanting lines, ‘A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass’, which I find quite startling in it’s compactness and sound patterning). But this is followed up with an immediate shift in tone and tempo when the next sonnet picks up where we left off (‘Then let not Winter’s wragged hand deface…’). Sonnet 6 could easily be dismissed as an inconsequential piece of self-indulgent whimsy by Shakespeare, but when I recite these two sonnets together, I find the experience of shifting from the austere beauty of sonnet 5 to the exasperated, tongue-in-cheek sonnet 6 really delightful and liberating: it’s something I can really have fun with!

        I am very grateful, by the way, that you mentioned the line from sonnet 45 (‘These, present absent, with swift motion slide’): when I read this line in your post I realised it contained a particularly interesting and expressive example of a particular kind of metrical variation (this is when a beat is shifted forward one syllable: ‘di-di-DUM-DUM’, instead of ‘di-DUM, di-DUM’), and I have now quoted this line in my post on ‘radical variations’!

        I hope you continue to enjoy your time in Albania, and I really look forward to following your posts!

        Keir

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Norman Parker · · Reply

    I too was searching for – I forget what – and stumbled onto your blog. Oddly ( or perhaps not ) enough, I have ALSO just begun memorizing some of the sonnets. Such pleasure in reciting them. I do them while walking our dog James. Whenever I have had difficulty falling asleep I challenge myself to count (very slowly ) backwards from 1,000 and when I lose track ( I always do ) have to start all over at 1,000 again. I have never successfully completed the count. Sounds too simple I know, but thought I should pass it on anyway. You memorized ALL of them…wow! I am starting by choosing those I feel to be the absolute standouts. Have you tried doing the sonnets—all of them– to completion while attempting to fall asleep? Bon chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi fellow sonnet memorizer Norman! Learning sonnets while walking James does sound lovely. What are your favorite sonnets? I have several but somehow I always go back to Sonnet 129, just for how unrelenting it is and the way the poem is structure.

      I think reciting sonnets would keep me awake but I’ll give the counting back from 1000 technique a try. Thanks for the advice.

      Like

  17. Hi,
    About three months ago I began my journey into memorising all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It’s utterly invigorating, and, interestingly, it places me in a good mood if I’m faced with a stressful situation. And it’s keeping my brain alive. Since I began this idea to learn the sonnets, I’ve been seeking online anyone else who’s done the same, or doing it, or thinking about doing it. You’re the first I’ve discovered! What’s more, I was very interested to see how long it takes people to learn a sonnet. And you said 15 minutes! My gosh, it takes me a good week, and that includes CONSTANT repetition on a daily basis. My calculations are that if I learn 1 a week then I should gave them all done in three years. So I’m not as fast as you, but we have common ground in our shared objective. I commend you on learning such a monumental work. You should be proud. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I’m thinking of performing them all in a solo show once done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi David,

      I’m glad to hear you are attempting to memorize all the sonnets. Bear in mind that I learned them a decade or so ago and don’t have them all memorized now, so don’t congratulate me too much. I think that three years is an appropriate amount of time to learn them since you really need to absorb and appreciate the nuances of Shakespeare’s work.

      Best of luck to you and do keep in touch on your progress!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: