The Scientific Indian

Shakespeare on having children

Coincidentally, I read two contrasting poems on the same day: Shakespeare’s sonnet in the Oxford book and Philip Larkin in The Nation’s Favourite Twentieth Century Poems.

Shakespeare’s famous 12th sonnet that urges us to procreate
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

Don’t let Time waste your genetic heritage, save your breed, Shakespeare commands us. Great lines and a timeless sentiment echoed by many in the past, like Thiruvalluvar, the classical Tamil poet and author of Thirukkural who took a dig at those who haven’t had the pleasure of having and hearing children:

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Roughly that translates as: you are a deaf ass if you haven’t heard the melodious voice of children and wrongly think that the flute makes great melody (implying that you should have children).

I suppose, in those days people were primed by a few things besides the biological imperative: many children died at an young age due to various – now easily treatable – illnesses; and, there was always demand for an extra pair of work hands. Hence, having children – a lot of them – was considered useful and necessary. Necessity has a way of entrenching itself as virtue in our societies, as it has in this child-rearing case. Times have changed now. People, atleast those in western societies with retirement money and proper social security, aren’t so stuck up with the idea of a progeny anymore. Modern world has produced minds that markedly differ from the bard’s and Thiruvalluvar’s. Consider Philip Larkin, for instance.

Philip Larkin
THIS BE THE VERSE

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

Indulge me, please, while I try a bit of poesy to express myself (feel free to blame Shakespeare and Larkin for making me do this to you).

Shakespeare is old school,
although quite cool.
Philip Larkin chimes
of modern times –
very cynical
but hysterical.
Shakespeare’s sonnet: a newborn’s first cry –
a dream, life after you die.
Larkin’s verse: a dirty nappy –
wet, real, and very crappy.

Enjoy the Christmas holidays. Don’t let Santa mess with your children.