Among William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, which he published in 1609, I particularly like Sonnet 116. It describes genuine love as “the marriage of true minds,” unaffected by changing tastes and resistant to temptations.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds Admit impediments. Love is not love Which alters when it alteration finds,Or bends with the remover to remove.
Shakespeare compares that love to “an ever-fixed mark,” like a rock which storms cannot budge, or the unknown but lucent star that guides the boatmen who might be lost at sea.
“Time and fevers burn away individual beauty,” writes W. H. Auden in a poem.
But in Shakepeare’s sonnet, true love turns a blind eye to the other’s “rosy lips and cheeks,” her physical beauty, when its lines blur with time.
True love carries on to the calendar’s last page.
As his way of saying Amen to all this, the poet gives this challenge — if he does not speak the truth, consider him as having never written (and so we must delete the sonnet) or else that no one has ever loved (and so we must forget the Romeos and Juliets, the Troiluses and Cressidas, the Dantes and Beatrices of the world, and even God, Love itself, from the discussion).
To be sure, there is love between friends, and love between parent and child, but the love that the sonnet contemplates is the love between a man and a woman, because of the word marriage (“Let me not to the marriage…”), although Shakespeare might have used the word in a broad sense.
But certainly, in Shakespeare’s time, marriage was, and for me always should be, between a man and a woman.
Jesus made this clear in the Gospel of Mark, when the Pharisees asked him about divorce, which Jesus admitted Moses allowed “because of the hardness of your hearts.”
He added, however, and this emphatically, that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’
So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
As a judge I solemnized civil marriages.
I would always make it a point to remind the couple of the weight of their marriage vows, in which they took each other as spouses “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Well, I could very well have recited to them Sonnet 116, too.
But I was afraid that the ceremony might turn into English Lit 101.
One of them might know Sonnet 18 and say to the other, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
As to which, if he or she should forget any of the lines, I can help, since I happen to know the sonnet by heart.
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