She shakes out the blanket, wraps it around her middle, and sits down. The room is cold and dim and full of quiet. She takes the top book from the stack, and her marker out of the book: Sonnet 49. Against that time (if ever that time come). Against that time do I insconce me here. That time being, for her, tomorrow afternoon when the essay is due.
For basic sense you can read each of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in a minute or two. For a little more chewiness and analysis, five or six minutes. The trouble is keeping them apart. Each one seems to annul the previous one: no longer that, but this. They dissolve into a mass of little qualifications and turns and particularities and withholdings and accusations and escapes. To make some speciall instant speciall blest. Let this sad intrim like the ocean be. Nor dare I chide the world without end houre. Like the small wheels of a great mechanism, always clicking into new relationships. Intricate is the word. Exhausting is also the word. The little packed blocks of text. He wrote them over many years, probably, and here she is trying to rustle up a theory in two days, elaborate it, and hook it convincingly on.
Last year, their tutor Sara advised them to spend as many hours as they could simply sitting with the text. Don’t keep your pen in your hand, just pick it up when you really need, or else your pen will get ahead of your thoughts. Look away from the text and out the window if you have to, try and pause your thoughts on the one thing. Focus on the experience of you reading this text now. But always remind yourself, it was written, sometime, by someone.
Afterward when they mentioned this to one of the grad students he said Oh yeah well she’s a phenomenologist at best. At best she thought was interesting: she wrote the whole phrase down on a Post-it and stuck it on the wall above her desk.
On another Post-it is written Find the edges and breathe into them, but that was from a yoga teacher.
She takes a mouthful of water, turns a page, and reads. Time doth transfixe the flourish set on youth, And delves the paralels in beauties brow.
Sonnet after sonnet after sonnet of iambic pentameter: which has raged like a virus through the English canon so that it begins to feel like the original meter, the only meter, the sole mode of reasonable speaking. How it shifts its weight slightly to accommodate things. Her eyes go to the notes: to transfixe meant to pierce, paralels could be military trenches.
This man. She tries to picture him at some sort of table, cogitating. His sharpened pen. Or did he stroll whistling through Southwark letting each poem evolve in his head. All day long striding across the stage, making cheerful business decisions, laughing with a hand on a fellow actor’s shoulder, a slurp of ale, you’re right I’ll take another run at that scene, et cetera. Behind all this, the obsession beginning to build in his chest, shredding him from the inside. Then home. Muttering onto the page. The ornament of beauty is suspect. Why is my verse so barren of new pride. It is my love that keeps mine eie awake. It is so grounded inward in my heart.
She needs to empty her bladder: it is starting to nip at the urethra, part of the complex that includes the clitoris. Holds that in her head for a moment, the word complex, thinking of castles and palaces and priories, little folds and pinches of flesh: like a series of side chapels around the great arched nave of her cunt. Concentrating the sacred forces. Providing a focus for worshippers.
A tiny snort at her own imagery. Back to the Sonnets.
Your friend Will: I’ve been working on a sonnet sequence, would you read it for me?
How on trend you are, Will. I’m not sure I’ve got time, Will. Oh, I’ll give them a glance if you really want me to, Will. Then sitting after supper with the manuscript in one hand, a cup of wine in the other. By the time your wife says goodnight you are struggling to control your breathing. Good God. Your friend Will.
She flicks her fingernail against the edge of the desk. Not exactly edifying, a balding man with middle-age spread and an embarrassing infatuation he can’t get rid of. At what point does the quality of the work start to redeem the pitifulness of the scenario. At what point does it no longer redeem. Better to embrace silence than to spout the same old shit. Spending againe what is already spent.
Turns to look at the window. The beginning of cold light outside, there are dark shapes now against the dark sky. A robin declares something sweet and firm. If she turned her lamp off she could really see it, the dawn being put together with great care, or perhaps reluctantly: the morning seeping in, the poem on the page slowly emerging. Working half in the dark. Pretentious of course, this fixation on silence and light levels. There is a perfectly reasonable nine-to-five day to be worked in the library if only she, et cetera. But this conviction of it all being one realm: the Sonnets, and the room in which the Sonnets are read.
At last conceding to bodily function she gets up: or rather, emerges from her bundle and lets her blanket heap half across the chair half onto the floor. Staggers sideways a step, to her own annoyance. Yoga has made her both more supple and more fussy, with the high standards of a careful practitioner. There are now unsatisfactory ways of walking to the bathroom.
Pulls her pajama bottoms down and sits. The urine starts chaotically, it catches on some small vulva-fold and trickles its warmth around, she pushes until her anatomy releases and it becomes a comfortable stream. A long one, like a long exhale. At the end, senses her pelvis all light and clean.
Coming back to her work she leans over the lamplit book, palms flat on the desk. Come on. Where is something. She lifts the book, flips to a random page, finds: That is my home of love, if I have rang’d, Like him that travels I returne againe, Just to the time, not with the time exchang’d—