Sonnet 22: Bearing thy heart

Lena Levin. Sonnet 22: Bearing thy heart

Sonnet 22: Bearing thy heart. 20″x20″. Oil on linen. 2012

William Shakespeare. Sonnet 22

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.

For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me:
How can I then be elder than thou art?

O, therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will;
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.

Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gavest me thine not to give back again.

Diana Quick reading Sonnet 22

Semantically, this sonnet exploits one of Shakespeare’s core strategies: returning a common metaphor – so common as to be nearly devoid of its metaphoric power – to nearly absurdly “literal”, direct and straightforward level, so that the original meaning of the metaphor stands naked before the reader’s amazed sight, in all its primal power.

In this case, it is a romantic metaphor of “exchange of hearts” in love: the sonnet follows repercussions of such an exchange, just in case it really happened. The result may seem quite extraordinarily silly and superficial, at least for a modern reader, if not for painful tenderness filling the verse to the brim.

My painting exploits essentially the same strategy, but with the next-level metaphor:

Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill

– the rhythms and and color areas of the picture plane create an emerging image of a tender nurse bearing in her arms – what? Her babe? Thy heart? My love?

For me, it was one of the instances when the very process of painting clears and opens up the power of the poem, stripping away all hurdles and obstacles piled up by devouring time.