Psalter of Fire, Chapter 1
This chapter proves that the Sonnets are in deep parallel dialogue with the Psalms.
We shall also see what some of the benefits and discoveries of this dialogue could be.
And we shall also the power of the connections with the Qur’an.
This chapter has 3 parts. The first will consider a selection of individual Sonnets and their intentional alignment with Psalms of the same number. The second part will consider groups of Sonnets and their connection with groups of Psalms. The third part will consider an expansion of dialogue that Shakespeare accomplishes, when he brings the Qur’an into the dialogue.
Individual Psalms and Sonnets
The introductory essay of this series shows how David, the fabled author of the Psalms, is present throughout Sonnet 1. This establishes a link between Sonnet 1 and the Psalms.
Thus the first Sonnet has allusions not so much to Psalm 1, but rather, to the entire Psalter, through David. (Although the fact that Sonnet 1 offers a wisdom lesson and a choice places it in conversation with Psalm 1, which does this too.)
In the Sonnets’ 1609 Quarto, Sonnet 1 is preceded by a dedication, presented here:
The words that have been emphasized show connections to Psalm 1, not in general form and direction, discussed in the previous paragraph, but in actual vocabulary and content.
The first word of Psalm 1 is ‘happy’. “Happy is the man who….” Thus the Psalms begin with a promise of happiness, of blessedness. After the address to “Mr.W.H.,” the first words of the dedication are “ALL.HAPPINESSE.”
Psalm 1 discusses Judgment Day. In this, there is a promise of ‘eternity’, which also appears in the dedication. “OUR.EVER-LIVING.POET.” could be David.
(The words “all happiness” also conclude the dedication of Shakespeare’s earlier work, The Rape of Lucrece, to Henry Wriothesley.)
Next, there is a fascinating exchange of blessings. The dedication wishes happiness and eternity upon the adventurer who sets forth, just as the adventurer is wishing blessings on other(s). This broaches another important theme in both the Psalms and the Sonnets: Moving from cursing to blessing, and, the improvement of our thought, thinking, and outlooks.
We shall see that Psalms 109 and 128 feature importantly in this progression of humanity from cursing to blessing. This is connected with the Garden of Eden (alluded to in Sonnet 1), its ‘loss’, and the flowering of a mature and divinized humanity.
This evolutionary theme of the overcoming of cursing with blessing is also the message of Shakespeare’s grave’s epitaph:
Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To dig the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be . . . man . . . spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he . . . moves my bones.
(Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear/ To dig the dust enclosed here./ Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/ And cursed be he that moves my bones.)
Thus we see that while Sonnet 1 has formal pattern-similarities with Psalm 1, the dedication to the Sonnets has striking content connections with Psalm 1, and joins the first sonnet in already placing major themes of the Psalms and Sonnets before us.
Psalm 2 and Sonnet 2:
Psalm 2 pits the heathen against the royal prince.
Shakespeare takes full literary advantage of this in Sonnet 2, where he threatens the young man with a fall from assured glory to a much lesser stature if he fails to procreate.
In Psalm 2, the heir-apparent to the throne is obviously the son of the previous king, but he is also the son of YHWH, who says to the prince, “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (2:7). Psalm 2 may have been used at enthronement ceremonies.
David again makes a rapid appearance in Sonnet 2, which begins, “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow/ and dig deep trenches in your beauty’s field, . . .” David was king for 40 years (1 Kings 2:11). He saw that his throne was given to his son Solomon.
More allusions to David include these words of Sonnet 2: proud livery, ‘gazed on now’, tattered weed, beauty, lies, lusty days, treasure, eyes, shame, praise (the Psalms are the Tehillim, the praises; praise is a recurring theme of the Sonnets), old, warm, and succession. All these words or themes appear in the David Story of the Bible’s books of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.
Shakespeare’s young man potentially speaks the words of God regarding his potential son: “This fair child of mine/ Shall sum my count and make my old excuse . . .” Thus we have another themes of the Sonnets, the divinization of humanity, or our failure to attain this possibility.
Another David/royal/Psalm 2 connection follows this speech: “Proving his beauty by succession thine.”
The references to Psalm 2, and again to David, are quite clear.
Even more than in Sonnet 1, Shakespeare is making mathematical puzzles for us. The second word of Sonnet 2 is “forty.” Just as Psalms 1 and 2 form a pair, so do Psalms 40 and 41, which conclude the first book of the Psalter. All four Psalms have the Hebrew word ashre, which means “happy” or “blessed,” as we saw in the Sonnets’ dedication. Thus, the Sonnets are already giving commentary on the chiastic and numerical structures in the Book of Psalms. (The word “happy” begins the Psalms, and begins the real public words of Jesus (the Beatitudes), and begins Shakespeare’s chief book of poetry, the Sonnets, as discussed above.)
The poem has more mathematical terms. In the potential father’s speech about his potential son, he says, “This fair child of mine/ Shall sum my count . . .” In a similar way, Psalms 40 and 41 “sum the count” and nicely close the first book of the Psalter with a chiastic response to Psalms 1 and 2.
Psalm 3 and Sonnet 3:
The outstanding work of Psalm scholars reveals that Psalms 1 and 2 were added later to the Psalms, in the long process of the Psalms’ compilation and redaction (‘editing’, roughly).
Psalm 3 may have stood as the first Psalm at some point.
This is surprising, because Absalom is mentioned in the Psalm’s superscription. And Absalom is trouble.
If Solomon, who is mentioned in two Psalm superscriptions in the Bible (Psalms 72 and 127) represents everything good about David and our human evolution, then the story of Absalom represents the tragic aspects and the wanton human pain of our evolution.
The Absalom story also represents the toxic fallout of David’s sin with Bathsheba; yet even here there is hope and progress, for it is through this process that David’s heart is circumcised, and humanity can evolve. This shall be addressed in Chapter 5 below.
For now, I only draw attention to the fact that the Psalter may have begun with a recognition of human sadness and chaos. Psalm 3’s superscription has David fleeing for his life from his own son, who wants to murder him. This seems to be a good description of the chaos that can happen in life. For some people who are not afforded a good start in life, their coming-to-awareness may occur in the middle of a difficult circumstance, such as when your own child is trying to slay you.
Perhaps this meant a lot to Shakespeare. Like David, he was sinned against, and he sinned himself. Like David, Shakespeare lost a beloved son (his son Hamnet, his only son, died at a mere 11 years of age).
Even in these and all horrible situations, there is always hope, as the divine offers us renewal by which we may always attain to happier vistas and a brighter future.
Sonnet 3 begins, “Look in thy glass and tell the face thou viewest,/ Now is the time that face should form another.” David’s son Absalom, and Absalom’s royal aspirations, will be replaced by Solomon.
It is interesting that when David is mourning Absalom’s death, Joab gives him a surprising, unintended, evolutionary compliment. He says that David “loves those that hate you” (2 Sam 19:6). This is what Jesus would preach centuries later. Of course, Joab meant this as a reproach.
After the victory in which Absalom died, David must appear before the troops to hold his coalition together, because they are alarmed at the king’s mourning. “Then the king rose up and sat in the gate, and all the people told it, saying, ‘Behold, the king is sitting in the gate’. And all the people came before the face of the king” (2 Sam 19:8). David’s posterity is more than Absalom. David is one of the fathers of human evolution.
Other early Psalms and Sonnets:
In the first 8 Psalms, there is much alternation of night and day. In the first Sonnets, there is alternation of seasons and years. These themes will return repeatedly.
Psalm 18 and Sonnet 18:
Shakespeare also deploys humor and understatement in his running commentary on the Psalms.
In Psalm 18, YHWH mightily descends to earth in a shocking theophany that knocks the water out of the ocean. The earth reeled and rocked, and mountains trembled.
In a gentle counterpoint to this, Sonnet 18 begins: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?/ Thou art more lovely and more temperate:/ Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May . . .” This is humorous in contrast to the divine fury of Psalm 18.
The second quatrain begins, “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,/ and often is his gold complexion dimmed.” In Psalm 18 God’s descent in a cloud of sulfur renders the very heavens black.
Then Shakespeare again undercuts the action, this time cunningly:
God does these things to rescue David, who at the beginning of the Psalm cries, “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of perdition assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me” (18:4-5). God affects a dramatic rescue.
Shakespeare merely tells the young man that despite his youth he will eventually die. And descend to Sheol.
Shakespeare’s rescue of the young man is rather different than YHWH’s rescue of David. Although the youth wanders in the post-death gloom, Shakespeare will immortalize him in his verse, thus, “Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,/ When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.”
Psalm 19 and Sonnet 19:
Psalm 19 is divided into two parts. The first part describes the glory of the movements of the heavenly bodies, and the beautiful movement of time itself. Time and the heavens convey knowledge to us, and the mighty sun is anthropomorphized as a strong man joyfully emerging from his wedding tent.
Sonnet 19 also has two parts, and in the first part Time murders everything. “Devouring Time” declaws lions’ paws, removes tigers’ teeth, burns up the phoenix, and even makes the poor earth take back to herself the dust of her deceased creatures.
The second half of Psalm 19 expounds the glory of the written Torah, and its marvelous capacity to heal and strengthen the human soul.
In the second half of Sonnet 19, Shakespeare warns Time not to write with its “antique pen” any “lines” whatsoever on his “love’s fair brow.”
But if Time doesn’t obey Shakespeare, Will wins anyway, because his own written lines preserve the young man’s vitality and youth forever.
Psalm 36 and Sonnet 36:
Psalm 36 has the amazing line, “In your light we see light.” Many Christians have interpreted this as being a discussion of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens us as we achieve unity with the Spirit ever more deeply and profoundly.
This Psalm also says: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.”
In Sonnet 36, however, Shakespeare is puzzling about the best way to part with a (soon to be former) lover. He arrives at the resolution that, despite their parting, they’ll be decent to each other in public, and won’t engage in any slandering of the other.
As we have seen, Shakespeare is often quite humorous in his dialogue with the Psalms. Earlier theologians did this too in their own parallel conversations with the Psalms, but in a style that kept closer to the immediate sense of the particular Psalms.
Shakespeare is more secular in his humor.
Perhaps there are at least two reasons for this. First, an evolving humanity celebrates the secular. God even wants this. This is part of human evolution.
Second, Shakespeare may be in a steamy direct dialogue with God about his own life. In the tradition of the Psalms of lament, Shakespeare is using irony, and a lot of it, to tell God what he thinks about the disparity between the Bible, God, and the potential happiness that a human life could/should have, and, on the other hands, the outrageous hurts and events of Shakespeare’s own life.
In the Sonnets, Shakespeare is working out his salvation.
He is also becoming a more mature interlocutor with God.
Psalm 43 and Sonnet 43:
Psalm 43 reveals how the ancient Israelite captive in Babylon longs to see, and return to, the temple. Sonnet 43 celebrates that the narrator sees his faraway beloved in his dreams.
Psalm 44 and Sonnet 44:
The theme of the Babylonian Captivity may continue in Psalm 44, where the plaintiff complains that “we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
In Sonnet 44, Shakespeare still misses his faraway beloved immensely. He wonders if he is remembered by his beloved (a similar sentiment to the Israelites of Psalm 44), and states that it “kills me that I am not thought.” And evolving humanity can be more hurt by matters of love.
Both Psalm 44 and Sonnet 44 discuss the earth, and Sonnet 44 specifically mentions two of the four elements.
Psalm 45 and Sonnet 45:
Psalm 45 again involves great distance, but here it is in the milieu of a royal wedding, and the meeting of peoples. There is excitement in the air, and many affairs of state, and many people with official functions, in both the visiting bride’s party and the welcoming groom’s court. There is counsel given to the young lady about the happiness that awaits her.
Sonnet 45 has official protocol and diplomacies as well, with “tender embassy,” “swift messengers,” and much communication over distance, communication that can mediate the spatial separation of the lovers. However, here the messengers are the missing two elements from the previous sonnet, “slight air and purging fire.” They are connected with the protagonist’s “thought” and “desire,” respectively.
Despite the fact that all the elements have appeared together (except for perhaps the fifth, ether, the stuff of the heavens), after Shakespeare has happy thoughts about his beloved, he remains sad, because the relationship cannot be constantly consummated in this manner.
Of course there is much more to say about this and all the other Psalms and Sonnets. However, let us jump ahead to a later point in the dialogue.
Psalm 119 and Sonnet 119:
Psalms 1, 19, and 119 all discuss the Torah in interesting ways. Psalm 119 is the longest, by far, in the Psalter, with 176 verses, 8 verses for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
At a surface level, Psalm 119 can seem disarmingly simple, as the Psalmist constantly reaffirms his/her love for the Torah. (Other things are happening in this Psalm at deeper levels, but the surface level remains simple, almost naïve. An example of this Psalm’s deeper complexity: the first 150 verses of Psalm 119 are often in a dialogue with the Psalm of the same number. For example, verses 1 and 2 of 119 begin with ashre, “blessed” or “happy,” thus pairing them with Psalm 1 and 2. Psalm 1’s first verse begins with ashre, and Psalm 2’s final phrase begins with ashre, as discussed above. Shakespeare was certainly aware of these deeper realities in Psalm 119.)
Contrasting the simplicity of so much of Psalm 119, Shakespeare draws upon the enormous wealth of his own experience to distill the glowing truth enshrined in Sonnet 119. In the octet of the sonnet, he alludes to the indignities he has personally suffered, and the positively berserking anger he underwent in their wake.
But piercing through the dissipating fog of hate emerges a moment of sterling depth and truth, in the third quatrain:
Oh, benefit of ill! Now I find true
That better is by evil still made better,
And ruined love when it is built anew
Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.
This is one of the “Torah moments” of the Sonnets, when triumphant truths emerge from the chaotic laboratory of Shakespeare’s hurtful life. Often, Shakespeare is in deep wrestling with emotions, feelings, moods, relationships, and his own internal developments, and those of others. His praise of others is usually oblique, not straightforward, as are his statements. Here, he is clear, echoing the simplicity of Psalm 119.
The concluding couplet states, “So I return, rebuked, to my content,/ And gain by ills thrice more than I have spent.” In a parallel way, Psalm 119 ends with the plaintiff asking God to gather and return her/him, like a lost sheep.
Psalm 120 and Sonnet 120:
But the oscillations of life continue. Sometimes after times of joy and integration, we are able to access deeper problems, memories, sins, or outlooks in ourselves or the wider world.
The next Psalm, 120, begins the 15 “Psalms of Ascent” group of the Psalter. These Psalms celebrate pilgrimage and gathering and are often joyful, although the first of these, 120, is contentious and as factious as can be.
Sonnet 120 states another deep and hard-won truth, this one more painful that that of Sonnet 119: “My deepest sense, how hard true sorrow hits.”
When we are in the grip of a particular emotion, even in the spiritual recovery that God sometimes leads us through, we think that a particular state may not have any potential recovery, that it is fairly permanent. Not the case. At the end of this group, Shakespeare will know a much greater liberation. This shall be discussed in Chapter 6.
Psalm 126 and Sonnet 126:
Psalm 126 is about the return of the exiles from the Babylonian Captivity, and the joy is simply unexpected and ludicrous. The Israelites of the return laugh, and shriek with gladness. This is the language of modern pop songs for teenagers, not the Hebrew Scriptures. Yet here it is. God will surprise us with greater happiness than we can imagine.
(Isaiah states that the liberating Iranian emperor, Cyrus, is chosen by God.)
The happiness of the Israelites is surprisingly great, off the charts, really.
Part of the joy is this: the Israelites have become God’s first missionaries, and they did not even know it. The suffering of the Babylonian Captivity has a purpose! And that purpose is to make friends with other peoples. In fact, the Babylonians become the spiritual children of the Israelites. The speech of the Babylonians enters the memory and Scriptures of the Israelites, and the Israelites learn new things from them, the previously-hated captors. All of this sharing and joy was entirely unexpected.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 126 also has a sort of consummation, a return, and it’s very mysterious. This too shall be discussed in Chapter 6 below.
In this first part of Chapter 1, we have considered about 12 Psalm-Sonnet pairs, as well as a topical remark about time in the early Psalms and Sonnets. This type of comparison could be done for many more Psalm-Sonnet pairs. And as mentioned in the introductory chapter above, Fred Blick has already demonstrated that Sonnets 146 and 147 have substantial linguistic connections with Psalms 146 and 147, respectively.
In Part II of this chapter, we shall discuss a group of Sonnets that take up a commentary on a group of Psalms.
Groups of Psalms and Sonnets
Psalms 93 – 99 have a special place within the Psalter. These Psalms celebrate the coming of God to rule the Earth/Cosmos, and they are joyful Psalms (Psalm 94 is not a part of this group, but happens to fall within it).
Hallmarks of this advent of the Lord are 1) Justice, 2) a deeply felt joy that cannot stop itself from overflowing into music, and 3) a general sense of awe and love for God, who is our Creator and Redeemer. Even nature itself will respond with gladness. A mother Earth who knows that all of her children, including her human children, are happy, will respond to this state of affairs with fecundity, consistency, and every kind of bountiful harvest imaginable.
These Psalms are known as the YHWH MLK Psalms. YHWH, the Tetragrammaton, is the holiest name of God in the Hebrew Scriptures. M, L, and K are the three (transliterated) Hebrew consonants that form the noun “King” and the verb “rule,” or “reign.” (The name of the group can be pronounced “Yahweh Melek.”)
For Christianity, the YHWH MLK Psalms may represent the Second Coming of Christ. Or, they may represent the creating of the “new heavens and new earth” that Jesus speaks of in Revelation.
The message for all people is good: that God desires closeness with God’s people, all of us. Also, God’s mysterious work through history, including our human evolution, is allowing this union of heaven and earth to happen in powerful ways, and preparing for this advent of a unified humanity and an era of unparalleled joy.
These psalms are short in length, and the reader might like to review Psalms 93 and 95 – 99 at this time.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets have a hidden parallel dialogue with this group.
Shakespeare notes the Psalms’ promised joyful erupting symphony of cosmic exuberance of a universe that once again discovers its closeness with its Creator God. In response this tremendous demonstration of God’s divinity and the joyful cosmic response to it, Shakespeare does something quiet. He holds up: a flower.
His Sonnets from 93 – 99 celebrate with a quiet beauty: Flowers.
Shakespeare responds with flowers.
These sonnets have a secret garden of flowers in them.
In his choice to do this, Shakespeare is making another statement, one of some importance. Yes, he is celebrating the beauty of flowers, and all creation, but he is also emphasizing something—he’s making a qualification.
Earlier, in Sonnet 65, underlines how weak a flower is. This weakness, this potentiality, this slight possibility, stands in contrast to the sheer awesomeness of YHWH’s arrival on earth of the YHWH MLK series. This weakness represents the growing power of human choice, human will, and the possibility of morally good, enlightened human beings.
A flower is a possibility. It’s ephemeral. But it’s beauty promises much. Sonnet 65 says,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
He mentions beauty and beauty’s slight action, which, before the destructive power of human rage, are no stronger than a flower.
For YHWH to come to earth, for us to establish the Garden of Paradise here, for humanity to evolve: we must love Earth and her children, that is, we must cherish our sisters and brothers in all humanity.
These flowers bring us into a deeper dimension of this group of Psalms and Sonnets. To repeat, these poems are also about choice, human choice, and the results of our choices. We can make good choices that blossom and result in goodness and increased stature, like a flower bursting into color and scent and reaching for the sun, or, we humans can make bad choices and fester like “weeds,” and “weeds” are another theme of this series of Sonnets.
The message is that we humans must fully appropriate, and incorporate, our ability to make choices.
The realm of human choice and the realm of organic life (especially plant life) merge in the image that appears in the first sonnet of this series: Eve’s apple.
Psalm 93 and Sonnet 93:
The first four verses of Psalm 93 are about God and nature’s response to God. Only the fifth and final verse gives even a remote awareness of human action: “Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O Lord, for evermore” (93:5). This implies that humans would do well to listen to what God has told us in the revealed Word of God, for example. This will help us to attain the “holiness,” that the verse speaks of, in order to be worthy to enter God’s house. The whole Psalm discusses how solid and trustworthy God is, even using some terms from Genesis, with references to the potent act of Creation.
Shakespeare takes this up immediately as Sonnet 93 begins: “So shall I live, supposing thou art true . . .” The possibility of deception and infirmness of commitment grows in the rest of the first quatrain: “Like a deceivèd husband, so love’s face/ May still seem love to me, though altered new:/ Thy looks in me, thy heart in other place.”
The fact that humanity is growing and evolving implies the possibility of inconsistency, even of falseness.
The third quatrain says:
But Heaven in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell.
Whate’er thy thoughts or thy heart’s working be,
Thy looks should nothing thence but sweetness tell.
Shakespeare refers to Creation, just as the Psalm does. But in the sonnet, God/Creation has introduced an element of uncertainty, by allowing the beloved’s face to continually depict love, while the interior person has another agenda entirely. This opens and begins to expand the realm of human choice, and the development of the various levels of the human person. In an evolutionary point of view, this new depth of the human person, and depth which has not yet achieved integration, is going to be fraught with difficulties and problems.
(Similarly, the interior struggles of Romans 7 and 8, during which Paul laments that as a youngster he could not do what he knew was the right thing to do, result in something wonderful: the development and establishment of the inner person! This milestone of human evolution appears in an understated way in Romans 7:22, where, after the shameful struggles and failures, suddenly the “interior person,” the eso anthropon, has developed in our soul. This is a tremendous achievement, despite the throes of getting there. It is as if God knew that the struggle would be difficult, and that we would not want to follow the suggestion of our fledgling conscience’s voice, and that, in the guaranteed arrival of failures, the person would acquire depth. Perhaps the acquisition of humility (self-understanding) is a necessary part of this evolution, and this humility arrives to us through our failures.)
Yet humanity must develop virtue, that is, strength of moral action. The difficulty of the growth does not excuse us from the quest to acquire virtue, and integration.
The concluding couplet of the sonnet: “How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,/ If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show.”
Each choice is an opportunity to grow in real strength.
God wants to come to earth—or—God wants to stay quiet and give us God’s own powers. But to receive these powers that God wants to give us, we must become strong morally, ready to receive them.
God wants humanity to transform the Earth into Paradise, into Eden. But we can only do this through evolving, through becoming authentic lovers of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Psalm 94 and Sonnet 94:
The octet of the next sonnet develops the theme of the strength that we acquire from good choices:
That thou have the pow’r to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit Heaven’s graces
And husband nature’s riches from expense.
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
However, the capacity to fail in our decisions still remains. And here, for the first time in the series, the flower, with its possibility for either beauty or corruption, is set before us in the sestet:
The summer’s flow’r is to the summer sweet,
Though to itself it only live and die.
But if that flow’r with base infection meet,
The basest weed outbraves his dignity:
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds;
Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.
Psalm 94, which is not a YHWH MLK Psalm, likewise differentiates between people who make miserable choices, and those who make better choices. The former group commits crimes, and “They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan, and they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive’ (94:6-7).”
In fact, every human person must undergo correction from our guiding God: “He who teaches knowledge to humankind, does he not chastise? The Lord knows our thoughts, that they are but an empty breath. Happy are those whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law. (94:10b-12)” In the last third of the Psalm, the Lord teaches his people strength, that is, virtue.
Psalm 95 and Sonnet 95:
The octet of the standard sonnet changes, it expands into twelve verses:
How sweet and lovely dost thou make the shame,
Which, like a canker in the fragrant rose,
Doth spot the beauty of they budding name!
Oh, in what sweets dost thou thy sins enclose!
That tongue that tells the story of thy days,
Making lascivious comments in thy sport,
Cannot dispraise, but, in a kind of praise,
Naming thy name blesses an ill report.
Oh, what a mansion have those vices got
Which for their habitation chose out thee,
Where beauty’s veil doth cover every blot,
And all things turns to fair that eyes can see!
When the narrator says, “What a mansion have those vices got,” he is referring, among other things, to John’s Gospel. But Shakespeare is alluding also to the expansion of the inner person that was discussed above, in regard to Romans 7 and 8. Humanity has a task: as our inner person develops, we must reconcile/integrate the inner person with the outer person, and grow in goodness and love. We must become integrated, deep, and of a piece. Whole and unified. The exercise of virtue helps us to do this. God’s Word is a great ally in this effort to develop personal consistency and integrity—a vibrant good heart. Many days of the year, Christian religious begin their morning prayer with Psalm 95, which says that “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. (95:7b)” But we are supposed to grow in intelligence and responsiveness to the Lord’s Word: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts . . . (95:7c-8a)”
The concluding couplet of the sonnet says, “Take heed, dear heart, of this large privilege;/ the hardest knife ill used doth lose his edge.”
Additionally, the sonnet mentions “name” twice and “naming” once. The name of God, especially the holiest name of YHWH, are key parts of the YHWH MLK Psalms.
Psalm 96 and Sonnet 96:
Sonnet 96 has a reference to the previous Psalm, 95, which we just considered, and which says that human beings are “the sheep” of God’s hand. Continuing the theme of appearances and deception, but now bringing this to the (quasi-divine) role of leadership, the narrator says,
How many lambs might the stern wolf betray,
If like a lamb he could his looks translate?
How many gazers might thou lead away
If thou wouldst use the strength of all thy state?
It is interesting that a well-known Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crosson, says that Psalm 82 is the most important Scripture in the entire Bible. Why? It condemns bad leaders and bad leadership. Why? Because bad leadership crucifies humanity, unnecessarily.
Clearly, the increase of human power must be led by an increase in our moral virtue. This is brought home by a reference to the YHWH MLK Psalms in the second quatrain:
As on the finger of a thronèd queen
The basest jewel will be well esteemed,
So are those errors that in thee are seen
To truths translated and for true things deemed.
Humanity is now on the throne. We must respect the great power that God wishes to share with us.
Additionally, the queen’s fingers form a 9-branched menorah.
Psalm 96 is the Psalm of the Interwoven Menorahs that most represents resurrection. Psalm 96 is Resurrection, the ring on the queen’s finger. Shakespeare knows that God is giving us God’s divine abilities, and that we have a role to play in the healing of the world and of the human society. He lived through the horrors of the aftermath of a religious civil war, and knows precisely what things can go wrong after a time of war. After a war, a society is devastated, her people broken. There may be an increase of evil, such as child abuse, perpetrated by “stern wolves,” bad teachers and broken adults.
Good leaders will bring blessings to society, while bad leaders will greatly multiply the suffering of society, especially of the poor.
There are many more connections between Psalm 96 and Sonnet 96. Psalm 96 has at its beginning three commands to “sing.” Sonnet 96 begins with three appearances of the word “some.” The singing in the Psalm is about blessing and unity. The three “some’s” of the sonnet are about various interlocutors in discussion about whether or not the lover’s beloved is virtuous or scandalous.
Psalm 96 ends with YHWH coming to judge the earth. This is seen by most people as a wonderful thing.
But the narrator of Sonnet 96 has been bribed by the beauty of the beloved. Despite the bad deeds of the beloved, the speaker promises, “I love thee in such sort,/ As, thou being mine, mine is thy good report.”
Shakespeare is in that difficult place where he cannot yet speak truth to power. But Sonnet 96 is leading him, and us, there.
Psalm 97 and Sonnet 97:
There are no flowers in Sonnet 97, but there are sad hints of other plants.
And there are children, who are considered “fruit”; however, this mentioned fruit seems to be missing. (Psalm 97 has a rare Psalms’ mention of “daughters.”)
Also missing is the season of Spring, despite the mention of the other three seasons.
Here is the first quatrain of Sonnet 97:
How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen,
What old December’s bareness everywhere!
“Darkness” appears in verse 2 of Psalm 97, just as “dark days” appear in verse 3 of the Sonnet.
At the end of the Psalm, we learn that “Light dawns (or, “is sown”) for the righteous,/ and joy for the upright of heart. (97:11)”
Shakespeare and the Psalmist could both be talking, at one level, about the long stages of our human evolution. Ice ages were brutal and difficult: some people outlasted others because they were more skilled in excavating the bone marrow out of carcasses as food. God is bold.
Perhaps the springtime that we are yearning for will be achieved when things like romantic love are finally able to flower among humanity. Shakespeare and the centuries before him began to witness this in a more widespread societal way. (Poetry helps us become human.) It continues today. We are a young humanity.
Psalm 98 and Sonnet 98:
The missing “Spring” of Sonnet 97 appears in the first verse of Sonnet 98.
What’s more, the first quatrain of the poem has a delightful variation on the YHWH MLK theme:
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 everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.
These themes are both topical and deep.
Recall that in the YHWH MLK Psalms, God is coming to earth. Things will get joyful very quickly when that happens.
Shakespeare, well into the second half of the YHWH MLK sequence, knows this. And to celebrate/make a parody of it, he has “heavy Saturn,” actually laughing, and then leaping, with humans in the beautiful springtime, which seems to convert even the most melancholic and saturnine of the gods. (Saturn is the rough Latin equivalent to the Greek god Cronos.)
This surprising image goes much deeper, alluding to deep darkness (and, therefore, to stunningly deep healing).
Saturn ate his children.
These essays have just begun to discuss the scourge of child abuse. This topic will be much more central in Chapters 4 and 6, which discuss David’s and Shakespeare’s lives, respectively. The recovery from childhood sexual abuse may be long and difficult. Such abuse alienates a person from their community and from their own self. Unbridgeable confusion and chaos enters the young person’s life.
Adults don’t like to be sexually abused either.
Of course, it’s much worse for children, who often don’t really know what’s going on.
Whether they do or not, the offense imparts large obstacles to their life journey that are difficult to overcome.
Perhaps the worst things in society can be converted and corrected.
Saturn, the god who ate his own children, is here dancing and leaping, and the laughter is echoing. Our evolving humanity can get through anything and everything. Love is stronger than death.
God is bold. Psalm 147 says that God heals those whose hearts have been broken. So God is the consummate physician of absolutely any and every human predicament. God will show us the way to healing.
The same Psalm also says that God counts the stars, which even the smartest astrophysicists have been unable to do yet. God also names the stars, as if they are his little children. Therefore, God is like a scientist/mathematician/omnipotent Creator who also loves creation as a loving tender mother/father. God is integrated, both powerful and tender. Our evolution contains many lopsided lurches towards this integration. Sometimes we are too hot or too cold, too strong or too weak. But God brings us to integration and healing.
Perhaps Shakespeare has experienced something of God’s awesome healing abilities. In the second and third quatrains we have “the sweet smell/ Of different flowers in odor and in hue,” “the lily’s white,” and “the deep vermillion of the rose.”
Psalm 98 and Sonnet 98 both have “praise.”
Psalm 99 and Sonnet 99:
To this point, Shakespeare’s sonnets that run parallel to, and dialogue with, the YHWH MLK Psalms have made human choice a central theme. A flower represents the fragility of young humanity’s free will.
Yet in Sonnet 99, a flower represents something even more precious: a child.
The flowers are our children. Looking back, we might say that the greatest sign of God among humanity is the gift of our children. This also goes well with the idea that God fosters the movement of our attention away from mere cult and rite, and towards a secular society that is flowering with love.
We have an entire flower garden in Sonnet 99. The first lines have Shakespeare angrily-playfully chasing down “the forward violet,” to “chide” the violet for stealing the sweet breath of his beloved. The violet also borrowed of “the purple pride” of his beloved’s veins. Similarly, the “lily” and some “buds of marjoram” are also complicit in borrowing of the beloved’s patterns and qualities.
Children, of course, borrow many things from their parents, genetically and in the first years of their lives.
When roses enter the sonnet, things grow even more complex. Here are the final 8 verses of the poem:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand,
One blushing shame, another white despair,
A third, nor red nor white, had stol’n of both,
And to his robbery had annexed thy breath;
But for his theft, in pride of all his growth
A vengeful canker ate him up to death.
More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
But sweet of color it had stol’n from thee.
Compared with almost all of Shakespeare’s poetry, this is quite joyful.
Shakespeare rarely shines pure joy, and here he does so—even if he’s using multiple terms about thievery, and also speaking of murderous worms and death.
Psalm 99 is the final YHWH MLK psalm, and it is paired with Sonnet 99.
But Sonnet 99 is an anomaly among the Sonnets—it is the longest sonnet, and it has 15 lines, instead of the typical 14 lines that sonnets usually have.
Chapter 3 will discuss 2 hidden chiastic structures that exist in many (or all) of the individual sonnets. Briefly for now, let us say that the extra line, the 15th line, allows for a third chiastic structure to be present in Sonnet 99.
The hidden chiastic structures form menorahs. Because Sonnet 99 has 15 verses, it has 3, not 2, menorahs! This is confirmed by the mention of the word “third” in the Sonnet! And this is the only appearance of the word “third” in the Sonnets.
Why does Shakespeare do this?
The third menorah represents a child that is given to two parents.
And this third menorah of Sonnet 99 is perfect. The chiastic connections are more clear and brilliant than those in the two earlier menorahs of the poem. This is a celebration of the beauty of children, and how children represent hope for us.
The meanings of metaphors change, and this is part of their agency and beauty. The three roses, and the three menorahs of Sonnet 99, could mean 2 parents and 1 child, as just was discussed. And it can also mean 3 children. Shakespeare had three children. His only son, Hamnet, died at just 11 years of age, just as the beautiful third rose died. Yet even here, Shakespeare is rejoicing. And it is not the case that he is merely mocking death. Perhaps he knows something.
There are more mathematical mysteries. The Sonnet is number 99. The Interwoven Menorahs of the Psalms are two 9-branched menorahs standing with each other. This sonnet is the only one with two “9’s” standing side by side. They are yet another image of the menorahs.
In Rome there is a wondrous vast rose garden in the shape of menorahs.
So just as Shakespeare is commenting on the YHWH MLK Psalms by saying that a human reflection of God’s coming to Humanity is the beauty of the human capacity for choice, he is also saying that a beauty of YHWH’s intervention on earth is the fact of flowers. Which flowers are not only merely flowers, they are also our children.
Shakespeare takes the YHWH MLK series, where “the terrifying God” of the Old Testament, saturnine YHWH, is coming to the world to make everyone happy, and he replaces this awesome theophany with 3 gentler ones:
Owning our freedom of choice, flowers, and our children.
Perhaps Shakespeare is saying this: Maybe God desires to come close to Humanity not from on high, radically ripping up our atmosphere and landing harshly on earth to correct us and stay with us, no. Not that.
Maybe God wants to guide us bit by bit. Maybe God wants to move to us and live among us incrementally, as we are ready to receive God and God’s gifts. Instead of a shattering theophany, it might well be a divinely-inspired evolution of Humanity, with myriad gentle moments.
There are many other series-groups of Psalms and Sonnets that are connected, but it will be easier to see their meanings after other themes in this book have been presented.
Additionally, after our brief considerations of the YHWH MLK Psalms and the Flower Sonnets, now is an ideal time to take up the third part of this chapter, which brings in the highly evolutionary Surah 114 of the Qur’an. We shall see again an evolutionary preference for human decisions, the cherishing of Humanity, and gentle growth instead of huge displays of divine theophany.
Additionally, we might add Psalm 100 and Sonnet 100 to this YHWH MLK—Flowers group. Although Psalm 100 is not a YHWH MLK Psalm proper, it continues the joy of the series preceding it. In Sonnet 100, Shakespeare continues dealing with the themes of the series, albeit in a new way. (Finally, Psalms 65 – 68 are a joyful group. Flowers appear in their parallel sonnets too, making a prelude to the series we have just discussed.)
Dialogues of Intertextuality,
The Psalms, The Qur’an, and the Sonnets
In the introductory essay of this series I noted that Psalm 1 mentions and recommends the Torah, and thus the Book of Psalms begins with a strong overture to intertextuality. That is, the Psalms begin by saying that they belong in dialogue with other texts.
Christian monks have always loved the Psalms. These poem-prayer-songs are the staple nutrition, the building blocks, of the Church’s liturgical prayer.
The Qur’an mentions Christian monks, most often in a favorable light.
The Qur’an also mentions the Psalms of David, the “Zabur of Dawood,” three times, always in a favorable light.
In fact, the Qur’an is in a running hidden dialogue with the Psalms, a similar sort of parallel dialogue as that which we are considering in the Sonnets. This dialogue is often more profound than Shakespeare’s dialogue with the Psalms.
The Qur’an’s dialogue with the Psalms happens at the macro-level of the Surah (chapter), where most/all of the 114 Surahs of the Qur’an are in a parallel hidden dialogue with the Psalm of the same number.
Yet it also happens at a more micro-level of the Qur’an—the Ayah (verse). Many of the Ayat (verses) of the Qur’an are in a hidden parallel dialogue with the Psalm of the same number.
And the Holy Qur’an is brimming over with knowledge of the hidden Psalm Structures.
These shocking discoveries are described in an introductory essay available at this link: https://www.academia.edu/16007177/Shared_Mystical_Treasures_between_the_Quran_and_the_Bible
Because I am new to the Qur’an and am just beginning my study of Arabic, I cannot speak authoritatively on the Qur’an, although I have studied it in translation; I am thankful for the fact that I converse with my Muslim friends about these high holy wonders.
Islamic references abound in Shakespeare. By one estimate, there are at least 150 allusions to Islam in 21 plays of Shakespeare (Dimmock, Matthew. “Shakespeare and Islam.” Web blog post. Oxford University Press’s Academic Insights for the Thinking World. Oxford University Press, 27 Dec. 2015. Web. 16 Feb. 2016.
http://blog.oup.com/2015/12/shakespeare-and-islam/ ) There is considerable conversation about this now in Shakespeare studies. Let’s hope this conversation blossoms.
A shocking scene occurs in Henry VI, Part One, when the French Dauphin, Charles, is involved in a skirmish and a dialogue, in the course of which he says, “Was Mahomet inspired with a dove?” (Henry VI, Pt. I, Act I, Scene 2, v. 140)
Well, the now-obvious answer to this question, as Will well knows, is:
It is clearly the case that the God of Islam and Christianity is One; Our God is the same One God,
The Islamic Scriptures (the Qur’an), the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament), and the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) are all revelations of Our One God. (Arabic is a Semitic language. “Allah,” God, in Arabic is related to the Hebrew word for God, “El.”)
This surprising question about the Qur’an’s inspiration, asked by the Dauphin, comes in the middle of a scene and conversation that has much to do with the Feminine. Instead of men killing each other in battle, we can dialogue. In fact, Charles has been beaten in a private battle by a woman (St. Joan of Arc) seconds ago in the scene. This is extraordinary. There are some Christian and Biblical references, to both New and Old Testaments, that discuss women, and the emergence of the Feminine in our human history. (Chapter 5, which discusses The Red Line of Hope, shall deal with this more.)
This conversation is very deep. And it connects all three sets of Sacred Scriptures of the Abrahamic religions: Qur’an, New Testament, and Old Testament. Likewise, the Red Line of Hope runs through all three texts, yet another tremendous mystical reality that unites the 3 Scriptures of the 3 religions of Abraham.
Shakespeare read the Qur’an.
We have just discussed the First Part of King Henry the Sixth, which was published about 1592. It is one of Shakespeare’s clearest statements of his knowledge of the shared mystical realities between the Qur’an, the New Testament, and the Old Testament. He may have begun working on the Sonnets about this time. However, the Sonnets were not published until 1609, 17 years after this play. He completed Julius Caesar in 1599, 10 years before the Sonnets were published. Hamlet was first performed in 1600 or 1601. The Sonnets were published near the end of Shakespeare’s most creative writing period. King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra were also published before the Sonnets.
Therefore, we can see that the Sonnets are a very mature work of his, the one and only work that he spent many years, possibly decades with, before publishing.
In at least one place in the Sonnets, at Sonnet 114, Shakespeare is bringing the Qur’an into the center of the conversation.
(A note to the reader: To this point, this chapter has been wide in scope, but tidily wide, pertaining to the Sonnets and the Psalms. The scope will expand now to include the Qur’an. Just a touch of familiarity with these large themes will render their basic simplicity easily accessible.)
Let us quickly review the first connection between the Qur’an and the Psalter.
Psalm 1 and Surah 1:
Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are both short and have many shared words and themes. Here are some of them:
-Both discuss choices we are to make.
-Both discuss the good path, and the unhelpful path.
-Both discuss the Day of Judgment.
-Both discuss negative types of behavior that are good to avoid.
-Both make interesting use of the word “and.”
-The name of the Book of Psalms in Hebrew is Tehillim, which means, “the praises”; and the second verse (Ayah) of Surah 1 of the Qur’an states “all praise is due to Allah/ God”; meanwhile,
-The word “Qur’an” means “the Recitation,” and the verb in Psalm 1 that we are encouraged to practice, “higeh,” means to recite, murmur, repeat, ponder upon, and wrestle with.
-Therefore, the title of each Sacred Scripture, the “Qur’an” and the “Tehillim,” is mentioned, in translated form, in the first verses of the Other sacred text!
It is now absolutely clear that Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are connected with each other. The Divine loves this sort of deep and meaningful wordplay and relationship between the sacred texts.
The Qur’an and the Psalms begin with each other, with a dialogue.
This is hugely important.
As this dialogue continues, it grows more subtle.
Let us now consider the final Surah of the Qur’an, Surah 114.
Psalm 114, Surah 114, and Sonnet 114:
As Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are connected with each other, so are Surah 114 and Psalm 114 connected with each other—but in a very different set of ways.
The connections of Surah 1 and Psalm 1 are clear to see. If a word is repeated and shared between two Scriptures, it is easy to see their connection. And it establishes a precedent, if it happens in the first unit of the two Scriptures.
Yet with Surah 114 and Psalm 114, there are not many shared words. Instead, there is a connection of call-and-answer, and a progression, and an exquisite dance between the two texts.
Psalm 114 is dramatic, and the scene of action is very exterior. It happens in the wilderness, by the Red Sea and by the desert mountains and by the Jordan River. This Psalm celebrates the Exodus.
In response to the Exodus, nature herself 1) is afraid, and, 2) dances like young sheep and rams in the springtime, and 3) is amazed at the sight of the Exodus. Mountains jump up and down. The Red Sea and the Jordan River are severed, their currents reversed.
Why do the land and the water, these two elements, act strangely?
It is because of the new connection between God/ Allah and people, human beings. This connection of the people and God is the birth of the Hebrew people, as they pass through the Red Sea. This passing through the Red Sea is a birth. Broken water. Red. A birth. A new connection between God and Humanity is the birth of a new Humanity. Mother Earth, and her waters, sense this and respond appropriately with the throes of birth.
Surah 114 was written perhaps a millennium after Psalm 114, after much human evolution had occurred in the light of earlier Scriptures.
Its title is “The Men.” Here are its 6 Ayat (verses) in translation:
1) Say: I seek refuge in the Lord of men,
2) The King of men,
3) The God of men,
4) From the evil of the whisperings of the slinking (Shaitan/Satan),
5) Who whispers into the hearts of men,
6) From among the jinn and men.
This utterly profound Surah is a sign of tremendous human evolution.
Whereas Psalm 114 had nature terrified before God’s theophany, and long external human journeys, Surah 114 speaks volumes of an immense internal awareness within the Human Person.
Surah 114 asks us to repeat its words, and to make these words our words. (The Psalms do this too.) When we say these words in ourselves, our interior selves become more holy, aware, and evolved. When we say these words in ourselves, we become more aware of the internal geography of our own soul.
And what we see is awesome.
Our relationship with Allah has become so full that it must be described, initially, with three statements of who God is for us: Allah is “the Lord of men, the King of men, [and] the God of men.”
We have grown to the point where we have to think of our relationship with Allah in multiple ways.
Indeed, our thinking has become more complex.
With that, there is greater responsibility that we must exercise over our thinking.
We must take greater care for our mental life, our mental activity.
As more complex and evolved human beings, we are potentially vulnerable to more sneaky whispers from the slinking/ withdrawing Satan. With our more developed mental antennae, we can pick up smaller “transmissions” from Satan. Satan attacks our hearts. The place of love. Satan wants to divide us, and to separate us from each other. The more we humans evolve, the more we transform into people of love. If Satan is able to stop our loving each other, than he can stop our growth, our evolution.
Love opens us up to evolutionary growth in more spectrums of reality. But we must show discernment as we enter an awareness of these realms: We are now aware of whispers that come to us from both “jinn” and “men.” This positive growth is leading us to be intelligent as we become aware that we are receiving communications from a wider spectrum of reality.
We must carefully observe and govern our expanding mental life. This is how the Qur’an concludes.
Psalm 114 showed the Israelites being led by the hand on a big journey in wild places. Mountains leapt, seas parted. The Israelites oscillated greatly, often wanting to return to the fleshpots that they knew. They radically bounced between fear and anger/pride.
By way of contrast, the final Surah of the Qur’an is teaching us about our evolving life of mind and soul.
See the progression?
We might, however, find seeds, kernels, of this tremendous growth hiding, latent, in Psalm 114. This Psalm ends with a verse about God, “Who turns the rock into a pond of water, the flint into a flowing fountain of water.” Initially, this might seem like simple powerful external imagery of God’s awesome power, with which he has been awing the Israelites and teaching them introductory lessons about their lives, their selves, and their relationship with God.
Yet we might also recall Ezekiel’s discussion of rocky hearts and the Pharaoh’s hardened heart, and we might discern the beginning hints of something different. The Exodus journey, led by God, is softening the hearts of the Israelites, and transforming their hearts into hearts of love. During the Exodus, for example, the Israelites had to become better at community. Part of this is their growing ability to make better choices. To discern, and to make calm, just judgments. Recall above that the YHWH MLK Psalms were converted by Shakespeare into reflections on our growth in choosing, and the growth of our morality.
The parallel relationship of the Qur’an helps us to draw out this truth from the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)! Likewise, the dramatic exterior action of Psalm 114 helps us to better see and to be awed by the huge quiet interior developments that are now happening in Humanity in Surah 114! Our Scriptures walk forward, hand in hand.
There is more. Now that the dialogue between Psalm and Surah has developed our sense of the dimension, the spectrum, of time, and of evolution, and of our receiving God’s own powers and gifts—what if Surah 114 is reminding us that if our evolution continues, we shall be given tremendous powers by God, the ability to move mountains and to dialogue deeply with nature?
Again, this Surah discusses choices instrumental to our human evolution.
And this Surah discusses cosmic forces that arrive to us, forces that are calmly mixed, or otherwise interjected, into our thoughts. These visiting thoughts may be for good or for ill. The growing human person must learn to read these thoughts, and to discern from whence they arrive. The growing human person must learn discernment.
The simple act of the decision, occurring in the quiet privacy of our own mind, is revealed to be more powerful and far more advanced than the leaping up and down of mountains, as wonderful as that might be.
Surah 114 is evolutionary, and very aware of our human need to grasp the cosmic ramifications of each and every one of our decisions.
They go together. If we make good decisions, and become a loving unified humanity, then the cosmos has no limits for us; in fact, the cosmos will lovingly respond to a humanity that has grown in love.
Shakespeare read the Qur’an, and knows the conversation between Psalm 114 and Surah 114.
His Sonnet 114 joins this hidden conversation.
Or whether doth my mind, being crowned with you,
Drink up the monarch’s plague, this flattery,
Or whether shall I say mine eye sayeth true,
And that your love taught it this alchemy,
To make of monsters and things indigest
Such cherubins as your sweet self resemble,
Creating every bad a perfect best
As fast as objects to his beams assemble?
Oh, ‘tis the first; ‘tis flatt’ry in my seeing,
And my great mind most kingly drinks it up.
Mine eye well knows what with his gust is ‘greeing,
And to his palate doth prepare the cup.
If it be poisoned, ‘tis the lesser sin
That mine eye loves it and doth first begin.
The first quatrain speaks of “the monarch’s plague, this flattery.” Yet it also speaks of the powers of human transformation, “this alchemy.” And here is the pivot, the human possibility of both disaster and of tremendous growth.
Chapter 4 will discuss David. And David is present in this Sonnet.
The “monarch’s plague” and the “great mind most kingly” remind us of David. The drinking theme reminds us of the amazing Spring of 2 Samuel 11, when David is lounging in his palace having drinking parties and afternoon naps while his army is away fighting.
He was on the roof of his palace. This is Biblicalese:
He was on the roof of his palace!
His pride was swollen. He had enough hot air in himself to send a dirigible on a random mission.
Of course, in God’s time, his reverie was popped and he returned to earth.
As we are given God’s gifts, Surah 114 and Sonnet 114 warn us away from pride, which is susceptible to flattery. The wicked among “the jinn and the men” of Surah 114, would flatter us, among other tricks. Recall that Satan flattered Eve in the Garden, and she ate the apple, and used her power to coerce Adam.
Yet if we resist the temptations to pride in this new era, then we become heroes of transformation, and we make real spiritual alchemy happen.
This is the only way for our human evolution to continue, and for Humanity to survive. If we become more aware and more caring people, our future is tremendously bright.
Indeed, the “monsters” and the “cherubins” that Shakespeare places in the sonnet remind us of the jinn, who can help humanity, or who can lead us astray.
Not only do we grow and become more aware of our interior powers and capacities and sensitivities, and the dangers of pride for a more enlightened humanity, we also become aware of something that we have already known, but in a new context:
We are aware that we need God, as much as ever, to guide us along the path of our life that grows ever more interior.
We are aware that we need God and implore God for humility, because humility is a necessary guide and companion in this new world.
This first chapter has demonstrated several things:
First, we have seen clear proof that Shakespeare’s Sonnets are in a running parallel dialogue with the Psalms of the same number. This is now a proven fact.
Second, we have seen that this dialogue between the Sonnets and the Psalms has deep and enormous consequences. The Sonnets are about many more things than we previously understood. What’s more, the Sonnets may provide a new hermeneutical lens to the Psalter itself, and help us learn better how to read the Scriptures in our own time.
Third, we have seen that the Qur’an is also very much involved in this conversation. The Qur’an is a highly evolutionary Scripture.
In Chapter 2 we shall consider the Psalm Structures, and how they are present in the Sonnets.
[This essay is part 2 in a series of 8 essays that give chapter previews of the forthcoming William Shakespeare and the Psalter of Fire.)
Copyright © 2016 Richard Murray