Friday, March 30, 2012

`Thy Eternal Summer'

The wife of a longtime Anecdotal Evidence reader who is a retired professor of English literature died last month in Wisconsin. Four years ago I described his Keats-and-Shakespeare bedtime reading ritual. He and his wife had been married for sixty-two years. I sent Roger a card of condolence and he replied with a thank-you note and a copy of the program from his wife’s service, known in the Episcopal church as the Burial of the Dead. Read during the service, along with passages from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, was Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18:

“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,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.” 

Printed on the back of the program, below the sonnet, are lines from the third stanza of Keats’ “Ode to Melancholy”: 

“She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu” 

The rhythm and sense of these lines, and knowing that Roger knows Keats so well, brought to mind the letters sent by the poet to Fanny Brawne less than a year before his death: 

“You uttered a half complaint once that I only lov'd your Beauty. Have I nothing else then to love in you but that? Do not I see a heart naturally furnish'd with wings imprison itself with me? No ill prospect has been able to turn your thoughts a moment from me. This perhaps should be as much a subject of sorrow as joy - but I will not talk of that.” 

Keats writes at such a pitch of passion and sorrow as to almost embarrass us. We feel uneasy overhearing such intimacies, and yet from them we learn something of love and the sorrow it makes a certainty. This comes from the brief obituary reprinted in the funeral program: 

“Grace was a housewife who was an accomplished pianist and vocalist, award-winning quilter, skilled cook, and shrewd copy editor. She was also an avid reader – via Kindle in recent years – whose love of art and literature was established early in her life and continued to its end.” 

Printed on the front of the thank-you card are the words “Amazing Grace,” the opening notes of the hymn, and the line “How sweet the sound…” On the back Roger writes: 

“I’m now finding out what it means to be without Grace after 62 years of a very good marriage.”

2 comments: said...

Can the world really be this small? I have the feeling that your friend, Roger, is Dr. Roger Forseth, emeritus professor at UW-Superior whose wife, Grace, passed away on February 21, 2012. I was an undergraduate at UW-Superior (not called that in my day) from 1963-67, took a class from Dr. Forseth (which I enjoyed immensely), and then I subsequently taught at UW-Superior from 1968-71 in the Speeech Department. I returned to graduate school to obtain a PhD but maintain many contacts with the school--and still do.

Cassandra said...

Dr. Forseth's granddaughter here, writing to confirm that he is the Roger Mr. Kurp refers to. Thanks for your comment--for 33 years next month, Dr. F has been my favorite teacher, rivaled only by his razor-sharp wife until her passing in Feb.