Featured Poem: Sonnet LXXI by William Shakespeare

This week’s Featured Poem has been chosen by Amanda Brown, Criminal Justice Projects Manager, who remembers reading it at school – and has since worked through its intriguing treatment of the subject of remembering in many of her Get Into Reading groups.

About a hundred years ago, when I was at a girls’ grammar school, I was taught English Literature by Miss Lewis. Somehow, we discovered that Miss Lewis’s name was Stella, so that’s what we all called her – not to her face, of course! That would have been unthinkable. Stella was ancient – at least fifty. She was a tall, angular woman whose clothes were severe but – I now appreciate – classically elegant. She wore long, glinting necklaces and dark lipstick. She was very fierce – no messing about in Stella’s lessons – and utterly passionate about literature. We loved her lessons despite being scared of her, because, through her teaching, we shared that passion. When we discussed Middlemarch, it was as if each of the characters had been invited to the classroom to join us. We knew them personally. Awful to reach the end of the book – wasn’t there any more?! And Othello – we were desperate to step in and help, to tell him the truth. Oh – the pity of it!

One day, we read together Sonnet LXXI. Stella’s voice was low but compelling. How could we not mourn for him when he was dead?! That opening line, with the word ‘dead’ echoing insistently at the end! We heard the slow tolling of the funeral bell and shuddered, picturing the worms at their grim work in the grave. Vile indeed! We knew all about the soft caress of a lover’s hand (or so we thought, based on our lunchtime assignations with boys on the cinder-track between our school and theirs. Classy!) You wouldn’t forget that, could you? Especially not if that same hand had written exquisite verses, just for you. No, you couldn’t forget. In fact, we decided, everything in the poem which seemed to demand you forget, would actually have the effect of making you remember. “Do you think so?” asked Stella. “Is that what he’s saying – remember me?” We insisted he was. She nodded in agreement.

I’ve read this sonnet in Get into Reading groups. It casts its spell every time. “Do all Shakespeare’s sonnets have a secret message?” asked one man. “Talk about manipulative!” exclaimed one woman. I would have come across this extraordinary verse sooner or later, I’m sure, but I’m grateful to Miss Lewis for sharing it with me.

Sonnet LXXI

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it, for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;
But let your love even with my life decay;
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

William Shakespeare

11 thoughts on “Featured Poem: Sonnet LXXI by William Shakespeare”

  1. So, just wondered, is this just for ex-grammar school ‘people; then? The ones who go no to be ‘professionals’ Come on ‘The Reader’ lets get more ‘real’

  2. My thought is how long does my comment take awaiting ‘moderation’ as opposed to those of ‘the are reader staff’ and those who are of course ‘reader acceptable’? As I think your editor wrote it seems to be to do with whoever is in the club – shame

    those who are reader acceptable

    1. Whatever seems unintelligible above is an accident of whoever manages the site – last line did not exist when I put forward my comment – any comments welcomed!!!!

      1. This post is just one example – you’ll find in other posts that there are people from all kinds of educational backgrounds working as part of our team – we’re a mixed bunch!
        All comments on our blog automatically go into moderation, which we look at regularly and reply to as soon as we can.

  3. er ,just letting u know, that have been involved with TRO for number of years and would say it is for everyone regardless of class or education although I did once upon a time think wrongly that Shakespeare was just for people with proper english voicesand loads of qualifications !
    I would not say you have to be well educated to enjoy shakespeare whenever i turned up at school people used to say ” OH we have a new person” so would not consider myself well educated !
    I go to a shakespeare group once a week not cause i am brainy or posh it is cause I like it , the group probably has a mixture of backgrounds and at the end of the day does not matter what school we went to or wether like me you live in a 1 bedroomed crummy flat or a mansion ( actually my flat is not crummy i have just sweeped up )

    I cannnot comment on how long it takes for something to be moderated as afar as I know I think it is to check a post is not being offensive and I know for a fact that they are a very busy organisation and sometimes may take some time , and no I dont work for them or anyone in the universe so am deffo not a professional in any shape or form
    I am persuming they let most comments on asfar as I know dont need perfect grammer or spelling as I know what is say may not be constructed grammetically correct life to short to worry about capital letters and full stops !! (I do like these things !!!)

    so just to clarify I would say most of the posts on here could be considered to be for everyone regardless of background or profession I have no profession, I am just me and have got as much chance of me being middle class as beating Bolt in the 100 metres actually I could do that tonight in my dreams !

  4. I’m glad you get so much out of being a part of ‘The Reader’ louise, I’ve always enjoyed your comments. I don’t talk posh either, although I don’t have much of a Liverpool accent as my parents were not Liverpudlians. I have a secondary modern background and tried to make a difference to my life much later on by attending college and then uni as a very mature student. My reading and possibly writing (prob. not grammar side of it as I received plenty of angry grumbles re said grammar in latter stages of uni! – a bit of explaining rather than the negatives would have been a whole lot more beneficial!) have benefited but not much else!

    If a comment is downright malicious or insulting fine – but I think that there should be an element of free speech here which sometimes will mean that people will disagree, rightly or wrongly! If however you do feel that you are being made to wait it does begin to have an adverse affect upon your enjoyment of a blog, how you feel about your own input and how you feel about how others may be unfairly judging you. If I’m at fault here then ok I’ll eat humble pie – but don’t think I am. I know on another blog once I completely disagreed with what someone else had written and said so – it wasn’t in any way meant to insult the person but now I feel as if I am being cold shouldered on that blog also – hey ho! I’m actually quite a mild mannered, genuinely helpful person in real life! and thought that blogging was part of my real life come to think of it!

    As you so very entertainingly, engagingly and honestly write(type) there are no barriers to reading groups – great! I think I may have sat behind you a few years ago at a Reader Christmas event and if I’m not mistaken you bravely got up and played a musical instrument on stage. Nice to see you coming out in support of an organisation which has helped and included you (that’s not meant to sound ironic or sarcastic) – good luck with your reading group. I attended with one of my sons but since then find I’m the only one in my family who wants to go and it’s not much fun on your own believe me I’ve tried it! My name is Fiona I used to post under that name along with a few other ‘names’ the Reader will know as my email address is always the same and many’s the time we have commented on the same piece.

  5. th anks for that fiona ! you explain yourself very well and sound very nice !
    I would think most blogs would welcome different views as that is what make s the reading groups interesting if everyone agreed , you would have no discussion as stated they r busy ! and maybe just an overlay, I have in the past made some comment really shout ing my mouth off and they have published it ,
    once i got an email from them and I would not open it for ages as thought it would say please dont write on our blog as we r a professional organisation and we dont want your crazyness , I evENTUALLY opened it with great trepidation and it said no such thing , think they just acCEPT people for what they r GOOD OR BAD !!

    I t is a shame you dont go to a reading group, when i first joined I knew noone but did not bother me as felt a at home as people friendly, you can be totally yourself without worrying that you might SAY something that will upset YOUR family , give it another go , people are only strangers once !
    I know that many people in various reading groups that i am totally amazed if they dont know me and stand their gobsmacked !

    I have an identical twin sister called Lucy who people often mistake me for she is wild and unruly so it probably her on the stage , I would not do such a thing as I am a quiet mouse although it is a mistake easily made by most people !! we all have our crosses to bear !

    AS said GO yourself to a reading group and then you can be you as no-one else can be u
    Lucy coming round for tea ! so going to have a lie down !as she is v ery tiring

    i HAVE A STRANGE FEALING THAT i HAVE BEEN OUT IN THE SUN TO MUCH

    TAKE CARE LOV LOUISE AND LUCY XX

  6. Thank you Louise and Lucy – hope you had a very good tea session together! Can’t believe you have an identical twin! Late to reply I’ve been on a night shift – you know Louise it’s people like you that make the world a little easier to bear!

    Actually what I meant was I attended the Readers Christmas Penny Readings with youngest son and after that had to go on my own (which did only once) – if we attended a reading group together think it would be a little like you and your identical twin sitting next to each other except i’m not sure which one of us is the most wild or the most unruly!

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