Shakespeare

A painting believed to date from around 1610 depicts Shakespeare in his mid-forties. Sonnets by Shakespeare, Milton and other great authors have been branded “products of white western culture” and sideline by the University of Sanford. PHOTO BY OLI SCARFF / GETTY IMAGES
Politics offers such sparse opportunities to talk about poetry that when even a sliver of a chance to do so blinks into view I will seize it.

I know in doing so I am missing the opportunity to join the ever swelling chorus of sage pundits warning of the horrible dangers to the Confederation of the Poilievre campaign — it's another truckers' convoy! — but there will be other days, other columns.

That said, let us go to sonnets. Those of you who hold memories of high school English will remember a sonnet is that most harmless of things, a 14-line poem. Those with stronger retention will recall that (among many others of his time) Shakespeare made a huge bunch of them, Milton, as always with this great master, turned the 14-line form to his own uses, Wordsworth, profoundly a student of Milton, added some to the great canonical catalogue of sonnetry, and since then the sonnet has been the avenue for some of the most beautiful and creative expressions in all of English poetry.

There are so many sonnets that are simply beautiful. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day ..." (Himself) You know who I mean. Some sonnets are electric with rage or disgust. "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame/ Is lust in action; and till action, lust/ is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,/ Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust ..." (Himself again.)

Some are as eloquent with affection as eloquence allows. "Methought I saw my late espoused saint/Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave/ Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave/ Rescu'd from death by force, though pale and faint ..." Milton on his late wife.

Others vocalize fury itself. "Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints/ Whose bones lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold./Ev'n them who kept thy faith so pure of old,/When all our Fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones ..." (Milton again.) Northrop Frye once described this sonnet as an "aria of sombre vowels."

It's a column. So I can only offer snippets. But we are in the internet age and any reader who wishes to may easily find these sonnets, and the ever so many more by ever so many more authors.

But let me make a few observations just on the basis of these samplings. Within the strict and limited form of the literary sonnet may and will be found some of the most exquisite and artistic creations of the poetic mind. They are the exhalations of literary genius. Any person looking for the select pleasure of seeing the English language deployed in its full resource and beauty — that person could limit his or her search to reading just sonnets. (I would recommend much greater surveys.)

By the same token, to take these triumphs of the creative poetic mind out of consideration, and to lay on them the brand that they are "products of white western culture" and as such need to be "decolonized" (whatever that murk of a verb can possibly mean) is to commit a sacrilege against poetry and art.

But such are elements in the idiot days we live in, that there is a university — at least that's what it's called, but names mean nothing in many cases — Salford, in England, where Shakespeare flourished and where Milton birthed his imperishable genius, which is doing just that.

"White western culture." That in the numb context it appears is meant to be pure condemnation, an utter dismissal.

So what is the problem here? Are the salons of Salford finding a problem with the highest excellences of language because of the background of those who achieved that excellence? And will they blindfold students to these glories because of that?

Perhaps it is the fact that the culture being discussed is "western." In fact I am sure it is. In the world of what we should call Grievance Studies it is not the excellence and beauty of a work of art or literature that counts, but whether is comes from the "right" source or from an artist with the right "identity." An approach to art and the idea of art that should be laughed out of existence. The corollary of that approach is that all "western" art is bad, evil and colonialist, condemns the works of the greatest artistic creators our sad world has ever known, and condemns every great artist from Homer to Yeats.

A little while ago, Cambridge University, long one of the highest prestige universities in the world, offered a program called "Decolonising the Ear." It is impossible to mock this utterly risible, fey, foolish and pretentious project. It is sad.

That program was to warn students off Mozart — master of music's beauty and joy, and sorrow — as Mozart was "complicit ... in projects of Empire and neoliberal systems of power." Is it even possible to get more silly, more infantile, more obsessively narrow-minded and wrong than what is going on in what we so carelessly used to regard as "institutions of higher learning?"

These are institutions that now seem dedicated to degrading thought; to deploring its highest expressions; to politicizing what is beyond all politics; to pushing young minds away from the greatest artistic expressions and highest esthetic manifestations the whole world has to offer. Stealing the most necessary food from the hungriest minds.

Woke is a curse and a fraud. Identity politics is a brutal narrowing of human fellowship. Throwing skin colour into the appreciation of art should be criminal. These new curricula are not just wrong. They are pernicious.

An expense of spirit in a waste of empty instruction. Obviously Shakespeare did it better.