Gavin Ewart – Shakespearean Sonnets

michelle-puelo-portrait-of-william-shakespeare
Michelle Puelo, Shakespeare In His Study

Back in 1976 and 1977, a celebrated British poet Gavin Ewart composed two sonnets in free verse, mentioning and contemplating William Shakespeare. In case you are unfamiliar with this name, here is what the 1989 edition of the International Authors and Writers Who’s Who tells us. Gavin Buchanan Ewart was born in on February 4, 1916 in London and received his BA and MA in Classics and English from the University of Cambridge. For a number of years he was the Chairman of the Poetry Society, and in 1984 became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He died on October 26, 1995.

Tidying Up (1976) is distinct for its choice of words: the lyrical hero tells us that some thoughts just lay, reposed, in his mind, “awaiting collection”, for they are not of a kind to be uttered (and he explains what he means). Shakespeare, Ewart claims, “owes his power to them”. These thought may well be the product of the author’s psyche, but they should also ideally be informed by the author’s travels and perambulations. If, contrary to the advice in Shakespeare’s Universality (1977), the author fails to get out and about, he “gets stuck in his own psyche” and thus “bores everyone – and that includes himself”.

The illustration is somewhat Baconian Shakespeare In His Study by an American artist Michelle Buelo.

Tidying Up (1976)

Left lying about in my mind, awaitingn collection,
are the thoughts and phrases that are quite unsuitable
and often shocking to all Right-thinking people –
penetrated by a purple penis for example
(almost a line?); and how it’s almost certain,
for Swift’s hints, that the big sexy ladies of Brobdingnag
used Gulliver as an instrument of masturbation.
Hence a tongue-twister: Glumdalclitch’s clitoris.

Though not always decorous, there’s a lot of force in phrases.
A good many poems stem from them; they start something.
More than anything Shakespeare owes his power to them
(his secret, black and midnight hags and hundreds more),
they almost consoled him – though life is pretty bloody
(the multitudinous seas incarnadine).

Shakespeare’s Universality (1977)

In one sense Shakespeare’s ‘universality’ was accidental –
due to the fact that he wrote plays. When you have so many characters
you’re bound to have so many views of human life.
Nobody can say ‘Why are all your poems about moles?’
or tell you you’re very limited in your subject matter.
A playwright’s material (unless it is outrageously slanted)
usually deals with a group of opinions; people can never say
‘Of course this play is entirely autobiographical’.

It’s interesting that Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which are
(I think we can’t doubt) completely based on his life,
are by a long way his least satisfactory verse.
It’s better for a writer, in most cases, to go out and about.
If he gets stuck in his own psyche for too long
he bores everyone – and that includes himself.

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