The North Star

I participated in an hour long meditation journey this morning. It was a great chance to relax and reflect. Something that came to me was this poem that I’ve loved for years. I’m surprised I haven’t written about it before because it’s always in the back of my mind.

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
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

– Sonnet 116, Shakespeare

As I move through life, the lines that most speak to me seem to move down the poem. It’s about love, time and love’s guiding force in life.

I settled into a profound feeling of wanting to share and show love to others. To be a calming and compassionate force in a tumultuous time. I may not succeed. Or I may get drowned out by the anger of the world. But.. I will be me and that’s the only way I know how to be. I want you to know that while I will never truly know what it’s like to be you, I see you. I empathize with your pain and celebrate your joy.

I listened to an audiobook about Shakespeare recently discussing how his work is generic enough that it allows us all to connect and associate with it in our own way. His work often leaves out enough specifics so that it can be interpreted in a wide range of ways, many completely opposing to one another. True to form, Sonnet 116 has been with me through sadness and rejection, independence, hope and celebration. I can also see it move from young and immature love to a love lasting well into old age and beyond life itself.

Photo by Jessica Pamp on Unsplash

I once really viewed this poem as being specifically about romantic love but, as I see it now, I imagine all those I’ve loved in life through romance, friendship, family and distance. In this writing, I’m very specifically thinking of it in that way.

These are my interpretations below. Although I’ve read a few scholars, I am not one and many of this is my own experience of the poem over the years. I have loved many people in many different ways over the years. I hold them in my heart now.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments.

Do not let me speak of (or even think of) love that admits fault in the subject of its affection.

The “marriage of true minds” refers to love. I could read this as either “do not let me admit faults about those I love” or “do not let me speak of (or even think of) love that finds fault.” I imagine it was the latter. As if Shakespeare doesn’t even want to hear about love that comes with judgment or criticism.

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove

Love that seeks to change the object of its affection isn’t love at all.

I felt this line so much in my late twenties, struggling with feelings of confusion and rejection by the one who was meant to love me the most. At that time, this poem was a reminder that I was right to be sad and confused. It felt like a validation that I hadn’t had the love I truly sought. It also gave me hope that this is a kind of love that did exist and that I could one day find.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Alternatively, these lines can also serve as a reminder to love people and myself more purely, without judgment.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

Love is steady and constant.

At first I saw this as a dismissive statement. Everything that wasn’t constant (and therefore every loving relationship that had ended in my life) was never really love at all.

Now I see it in an affirmative light. It’s letting me know that what drove us apart, wasn’t a lack of love. We change; circumstances change and that may mean we cannot stay in a loving relationship. But it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t ever a good and positive thing in my life. It doesn’t even mean that I’ll stop feeling love for someone.

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Love is the guiding force for all of us.

This is my favorite line of the poem. I had to look it up at first because I didn’t understand the reference. Once I did, it became such a beautiful mental image. A bark (or barque) is a sailing ship with three or more masts. This line compares love to the North Star guiding every ship in the sea. Love, in this sense, is the one true source of truth, life and destiny.

Wherever we are and wherever we go, it will just be there. Ready to guide us.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

We cannot put a value on love even though we constantly try to measure it.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

Love does not fade over time even as we grow old and time brings death closer and closer.

This invokes imagery of clocks ticking, the grim reaper coming with his sickle and people aging while love stays steady and strong like a stone pillar. I visualize that pillar in a time-lapsed video. Days and nights passing through season after season while the pillar remains unmoving through it all.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

    If this be error and upon me proved,
    I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

If I am wrong about this then no one should say I am a writer nor that anyone has ever really loved another.

Over time this statement seems so much more impactful. Shakespeare is such a prolific writer in my culture that saying he wasn’t a writer at all seems akin to saying the sky is green and the grass is blue. And, of course, we all know that we experience love. There’s no denying that.

5 thoughts on “The North Star

  1. >. To be a calming and compassionate force in a tumultuous time. I may not succeed.

    You have already succeeded. I think you are a very compassionate person who has the gift of knowing how to be a good, caring friend. I’m so thankful you are in my world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be fair, it was a little looser than a full on hour long meditation. We were encouraged to move if we felt it and there were prompts of things to imagine. It was in a (virtual) group setting which I think helped me to stay with it as well.
      On my own, I try to do 10 minute meditations every morning and sometimes those can still be really difficult some mornings. I try to keep reminding myself that it’s a practice. I need to keep practicing.

      Like

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