“Sonnet 8: Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?” by William Shakespeare

"The Musicians" by Caravaggio

“The Musicians” by Caravaggio

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lovest thou that which thou receivest not gladly,
Or else receivest with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”

As a musician, this poem really works for me. I connected with the musical metaphors used to convey familial harmony.

Shakespeare is again addressing the fair youth and asking why the songs (or poems) encouraging marriage and children make the youth sad. As with most youths, he likely views marriage as the loss of freedom and liberty. He does not want to be tied down to responsibility. But as Shakespeare points out, marriage is more than just responsibility and commitment; it is about the joy of being in harmony with other human beings.

If we look deeper at the metaphor of musical harmony as used to express marital happiness, we can see just how appropriate this is. In music theory, a basic chord is built on a triad, which is comprised of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. The traditional family structure is also based upon a triad: “sire and child and happy mother.” While each individual string can create a note, it is the combination, the strumming of multiple strings, the shared vibrations, which create rich chords. Likewise, it is the family, the shared love, which creates richness and harmony in life.

In music, the combination of the various parts creates something that transcends the individual elements. It is the same with a loving family. When humans bond and share their feelings, it creates something that surpasses the sum of the individuals, and this is what Shakespeare is encouraging the youth to discover.

Thanks for stopping by, and may your day be filled with joy, music, and harmony.

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4 Comments

Filed under Literature

4 responses to ““Sonnet 8: Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?” by William Shakespeare

  1. Thanks Jeff!

    What a strange world it would be without music. It’s always amazed me that harmony has a universal beauty to it. Even though different cultures have a preference for different scales, none of them are dissonant.

    Hope you too are having a day filled with joy, music and harmony.

  2. “But as Shakespeare points out, marriage is more than just responsibility and commitment; it is about the joy of being in harmony with other human beings”.

    I think he talks about the same issue in Sonnet 130… Am I right?
    Excellent post Jeff ⭐
    Best wishes to you. Aquileana 😀

    • Hi Aquileana! You are obviously more knowledgeable regarding Shakespeare’s sonnets than I am. 🙂 I read them all, but it was a long time ago. Since I am only on #8, it may take me a while to get to #130, but I’ll keep at it. Cheers!

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