By Isaac Anderson
Continued from yesterday.
After we’ve gone our separate ways to work, the philosopher comes by my apartment for a beer. In addition to Descartes, this afternoon he taught Shakespeare, Sonnet 40. We walk out to the side yard, to a gazebo ringed with wood chips and dead leaves, gaze at the oaks wrapped in kudzu. I smoke American Spirits and he smokes a pipe and tells me about reading lines aloud to his students from that desolate verse: Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all.
It’s a poem reckoning with betrayal. The speaker’s mistress has taken up with his best friend. The word love repeats plaintively—love, love’s, loves—ineffectually, like a dead lighter that won’t produce a flame. Or as one commentator has it, like a spell cast to keep love from flying away.
I picture my friend reciting the sonnet’s lines aloud to his class, reciting and remembering the times he and his wife read to each other from old Russian novels (how different it feels now reading alone at night). I wonder if any of his students suspect how close Shakespeare is to describing the backdrop of their professor’s life.
Do they think about what lay behind his intensity? What makes him grip his pencil hard enough while reading that it accidentally snaps like a piece of straw in his hand?
We sit under the gazebo as he runs through the sonnet’s arc, recalling phrases. Lascivious grace, that’s a good one. His voice has a rarefied quality, hard to interpret, something beyond anger or self-recrimination, but with traces of each. The tree-lined neighborhood is quiet. Plumes of smoke become like thought-bubbles between us.