Call Me, Maybe: Modern Interpretations of Renaissance Poetry

Rachel Cordasco

Staff Writer

Rachel Cordasco has a Ph.D in literary studies and currently works as a developmental editor. When she's not at her day job or chasing three kids, she's writing reviews and translating Italian speculative fiction. She runs the website, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

You remember how, in English class, you were told to dissect Renaissance poems (e.g. Shakespeare’s sonnets, Donne’s poems, etc.) word by word, letter by letter, and then close-analyze them and turn them inside out, in order to figure out their meaning(s)?

Yeah, well, that was then and this is now. It’s time for some real-life, relevant interpretations of these babies. So step aside, Critical Theorists; lemme show you how it’s done.

1. “Sonnet XVIII” by Willy Shakespeare

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.

What Willy was trying to say

What’s the deal with all those so-called poets who compare you to the gross and sweaty summer? Basically, baby, anyone who tells you that you’re like a summer’s day is saying that you’re temporary and you piss off a lot of people and you’re gross. So don’t listen to them listen to meeeeeee *kissing sounds*


2. “The Duchess to Her Readers” by Margy Cavendish

A Poet am I neither born nor bred,
But to a witty poet married:
Whose brain is fresh and pleasant as the Spring,
Where Fancies grow and where the Muses sing.
There oft I lean my head, and listening, hark,
To catch his words and all his fancies mark:
And from that garden show of beauties take
Whereof a posy I in verse may make.
Thus I, that have no gardens of my own,
There gather flowers that are newly blown.

What Margy was trying to say

I’m gonna write a poem about how I’m not really a poet I just get the talent by osmosis from my main squeeze but whatever cause here’s this awesome poem I just wrote. That’s right.


3. “The Sun Rising” by Johnny Donne

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

What Johnny was trying to say

Maybe if I toss the alarm clock into the woodchipper and close the blinds, the sun will harass other people so we can cuddle some more, baby. Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m sure it’ll work this time.


4. “Astrophel and Stella, XXXIV” by Phil Sidney

Come, let me write. And to what end? To ease
A burthened heart. How can words ease, which are
The glasses of thy daily vexing care?
Oft cruel fights well pictured forth do please.
Art not ashamed to publish thy disease?
Nay, that may breed my fame, it is so rare.
But will not wise men think thy words fond ware?
Then be they close, and so none shall displease.
What idler thing than speak and not be heard?
What harder thing than smart and not to speak?
Peace, foolish wit! with wit my wit is marred.
Thus write I, while I doubt to write, and wreak
My harms on ink’s poor loss. Perhaps some find
Stella’s great powers, that so confuse my mind.

What Phil was trying to say

Gotta write how I feel, but my writing sucks. Right? Does it suck? Probably should just not write. But I need to write. Who cares if it sucks. But it SUCKS and people will laugh at me. Oh wait look at that I just wrote something. *checks* Yeah, it sucks.


5. “Crown 1” from A Crown of Sonnets Dedicated to Love by Mary Wroth

In this strange labyrinth how shall I turn?
Ways are on all sides while the way I miss;
If to the right hand, there in love I burn;
Let me go forward, therein danger is;
If to the left, suspicion hinders bliss,
Let me turn back, shame cries I ought return
Nor faint, though crosses with my fortunes kiss;
Stand still is harder, although sure to mourn.
Thus let me take the right, or left hand way;
Go forward, or stand still, or back retire;
I must these doubts endure without allay
Or help, but travail find for my best hire;
Yet that which most my troubled sense doth move
Is to leave all, and take the thread of love.

What Mer was trying to say

There’s this guy I like, Reader, and I don’t know, should I call him and risk embarrassing myself? But if I don’t call him he might think I’m not interested and then he won’t call me cause he has like a million other girls chasing him. Ok, picking up the phone. Dialing. No no hanging up. Ok, ok, no, for real this time, I’m calling him. *stares at the phone*