Rereading the Classics and lifelong learning


At the moment I have a strange urge to start rereading Shakespeare. I have a BA (Hons) Degree in English Literature. I specialised in African Literature, Thomas Hardy and the epic poems of Milton, Homer, Spenser and Dante. My absolute favourite is Spenser’s Faerie Queene (above).

As part of my degrees I also studied all of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, the best of UK, US and African literature, and classic poetry. But I have to say I didn’t enjoy it. We were under great pressure to read as much as possible in as short a time as possible, produce the work and pass the exams with little time to savour anything. In addition, I had other subjects (Journalism and Sociology (my other majors), Psychology, Social Work and Anthropology).

Now, after all these years, I have been rereading my favourite poems by Yeats, Keats, Byron, Blake – and I am loving them. I never thought that would EVER happen. Suddenly they all make sense and they are beautiful, absolutely beautiful. Next I think I will start on Shakespeare. I have studied MacBeth and Othello quite extensively so I think I will start on some of the others. Perhaps Taming of the Shrew? Or perhaps Romeo and Juliet (below)?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid since she is envious.
Her vestal livery is but sick and green

I wish I had started my university studies now, rather than at the age of 17. And school for that matter. I don’t think we appreciate the privilege of learning when we are young. I am sure I would have enjoyed it so much than when I was there. All I wanted to do was graduate – I didn’t appreciate learning!

somewhere i have never travelled by ee cummings
somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands


Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. No, Shakespeare is brilliant. I also like the Romantics. The members group at our local museum has a conversazione on Tuesday mornings, I often read a poem, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson or Wordswoth.

  2. I studied accountancy, really boring, so have been a lifelong learner and a book collector. I am retired now and my project for this summer is rereading Shakespeare and also his biography, criticism etc. I hope you enjoy your Shakespeare journey as much as I do. I have a notebook, a Leuchtturm with a leather cover i bought from USA in which I record my notes. I have to find a use for all the stationery I collect.

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