Sonnets for Advent 21: Sonnet 98

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From its incidental, understated beginning through to its rich sounds of ‘Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose’, Sonnet 98 evokes the presence of the lover in the natural world, a presence sought in and inspired by the season of spring. Sonnet 98 is the one that Mrs Ramsey is struck by towards the end of the first part of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse:

‘”Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose”, she read, and so reading she was ascending, she felt, on the top, on to the summit. How satisfying! How restful! All the odds and ends of the day stuck to this magnet; her mind felt swept, felt clean. And then there is was, suddenly entire; she held it in her hands, beautiful and reasonable, clear and complete, the essence sucked out of life and rounded here – the sonnet.’

Sonnet 98 is here read by one of our Shakespeare Aloud actors, Richard Bunn.

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

Find out more about Shakespeare’s Sonnets via our free on-line course www.gettingtoknowshakespeare.com

Listen to the same sonnet being read by a student at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

You might like to treat yourself to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s own, exclusive edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, edited by our Honorary President, Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E., and beautifully printed by Oxford University Press. Find out more by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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