Themes and Variations in Shakespeare's Sonnets

By J B Leishman | Go to book overview

Preface

Portions of the First Part of this book have already appeared in Elizabethan and Jacobean Studies presented to Frank Percy Wilson in Honour of his seventieth Birthday (Clarendon Press, 1959), and I am grateful to the editors and publishers for permission to reprint them. For many years it had been in my mind to write about Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and it was the request for this contribution that finally set me to work.

My colleagues Miss Helen Gardner, Fellow of St. Hilda’s, and Mr. Donald Russell, Fellow of St. John’s, were kind enough to read through the whole of the first draft in typescript and to make many most valuable suggestions for correction and supplementation in matters large and small. I express here both my deep gratitude to them and my awareness that by no means everything I have written carries their imprimatur.

I cannot omit some mention of the great man to whose memory I have ventured to dedicate this book. In the course of my work as a translator of Rilke I had long become familiar with many of the books of his friend, the Austrian writer, traveller and sage, Rudolf Kassner, but it was not until 1952 that I paid my first visit to him at Sierre, visits which I continued almost every summer until his death in 1959. It was only after our first meeting, when he sent me a copy of Die Geburt Christi, that I discovered the great books he had been publishing in Switzerland since the end of the war. The combined influence upon me of the man and his books has been, so far as I am aware, the most powerful single influence I have experienced since I reached maturity. It has been a great liberating influence, under which I seem to have acquired a new, more independent, more fruitful, way of looking at things.

In the course of one of our conversations during my last visit to him in 1958, I mentioned that I was writing on Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and he remarked that the only poetry that seemed to him at all comparable with some of Shakespeare’s sonnets to his friend were Michelangelo’s to Vittoria Colonna. I did not ask him to enlarge upon this remark, but I did not forget it, and when I returned to England, I re-read Michelangelo’s sonnets. How far Kassner would have approved of what I have written about the resemblances and differences between them and Shakespeare’s,

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