A fellow as coarse, and just plain thick, as Don Paterson shouldn’t be allowed near them.

“In the end, putting together a guide to the sonnets, I decided I’d write it in the form of a diary. That’s to say I read the sonnets as you would any other book, fitting them round my work routine and domestic obligations. So rather than lock myself in the library for six months, I wrote my commentaries on the poems while awake, bored, half-asleep, full of cold, drunk, exhausted, serene, smart, befuddled and stupid. I wrote on the train, in bed, in the bath and in my lunch-break…”

He wrote on the train!  As if this were special.  This guy can’t be serious…

“As you would read any other book…”

Oh really?  I thought you were going to press the book against your head…

“Drunk… befuddled and stupid.”

That sounds about right.

“The idea was to find a way of giving the sonnets more of a direct and personal reading than they usually receive.”

He’s going to vomit on the book and then stick it up his arse…

“…the discussion of how Shakespeare wrote these crazy poems…”

Oh you crazy sumabitch you!

“I also wanted to try to bring a bit of sanity to the discussion…”


“Like most poets, Shakespeare uses the poem as way of working out what he’s thinking, not as a means of reporting that thought. Often he’ll start with nothing more than a hangover, a fever and a bad night spent being tormented by the spectre of his absent lover.”

That’s you, you stupid wanker, not Shakespeare!

“With the Young Man he’s in the grip of a pure love, but stalked by the presence of lust; with the Dark Lady he’s in the grip of a pure lust, but stalked by the absence of love.”

Yuk Man and Daft Lady have got Donnie “in the grip” of pure stupidity…

“Elsewhere, I got stuck into the kind of “idiot’s work” that WH Auden tried to warn us off: that of trying to establish the identity of the sonnets’ dramatis personae. The trouble is that it’s impossible to read the sonnets without speculating on identities. We’re often simply invited to by Shakespeare’s shameless hook-baiting, his cryptic clues placed there only to pique our interest.”

Listen to Auden.  It’s you who’s baiting the hook.  “pique our interest…”  Speak for yourself, you dunderhead.

“I do think of this as the most oddly impressive aspect of the sonnets. The Dark Lady poems are mostly horrible, and those that aren’t are bad.”

Don Paterson has spoken!

“How has the little sonnet managed to honour Shakespeare’s huge boast of the immortality of his own verse? I’ve long been convinced that if you could somehow snap your fingers and destroy every sonnet on the planet, and wipe every sonnet from every human mind, it would reappear in almost exactly the same form by teatime tomorrow.”

Don Paterson has a thought, which eclipses Shakespeare’s lasting fame…

“if human poetic speech is breath and language is soapy water, sonnets are just the bubbles you get. Sonnets express a characteristic shape of human thought, and are, after a bit of practice, very easy to write. Badly.”

Don came up with this idea in his bath, obviously…

“Shakespeare modernised the form of the sonnet, and transformed it from a stylised, courtly love shtick to a fluent and flexible form that could turn itself to any subject.”

What piffle.  “modernised the form”  No, he didn’t modernize “the form.”  And no, Dante and Petrarch’s sonnets, which Shakespeare was writing against, were not simply “stylised, courtly love shtick.”  To characterize the tradition out of which Shakespeare springs as “courtly love shtick” is nothing but crass ignorance. 

“After the “boring procreation sonnets”, things look up at Sonnet 18, with the wonderful “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In this poem, the subject shifts seamlessly and movingly from: “You’re lovely, and must breed so that the world is never denied your beauty,” to “You’re lovely! And to hell with breeding – the power of my own verse will keep your beauty immortal.” Shakespeare is now openly in love with the young man, and the next 108 sonnets are given over to an account of their affair’s progress, although the jury’s out as to whether it’s always the same man being addressed. I still have no settled opinion on the matter, but the poems do seem to have a clear dramatic narrative.”

Our idiot Mr. Paterson thinks Shakespeare just stuck 14 “boring procreation sonnets” in front of the sequence so that the heavens could suddenly open as the real theme of the sonnets is announced: “To hell with breeding…the power of my own verse will keep you immortal.”  But doesn’t Paterson wonder that perhaps Shakespeare was intentionally moving from immortality through children to immortality through writing and this Platonic momentum (see Plato’s The Symposium) is sustained throughout the book, with one of its glories the pun of black ink—black, because it is the melancholy, mournful product of the writing act itself (due to human separation, a major trope in the book) and thus, the “Dark Lady” is not a biographical person, just as the ‘Young Man’ is not a biographical person, but one of Shakespeare’s many ‘forms?’  And thus the work is not a fevered diary of lust with biographical individuals, but something far more interesting, beautiful and profound, and intentionally hidden from lunkheads such as Don Paterson?

As for Donnie’s “boring procreation sonnets:” they are some of the most exquisite specimens of verse in the language, containing lines such as:

Thou of thy self thy sweet self dost deceive   –sonnet 4

For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there,
Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where  –sonnet 5

Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee, ‘Thou single wilt prove none’.  –sonnet 8

Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase,
Without this folly, age, and cold decay,
If all were minded so, the times should cease,
And threescore year would make the world away  –sonnet 11

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  –sonnet 12

And here is that glorious sonnet no. 1:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And tender churl mak’st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

“Beauty’s rose.”  That’s Platonism, Donnie.  Learn about it.  Not the rose’s beauty, but Beauty’s rose.  It’s delightfully simple.


  1. Oprah Winfrey said,

    October 21, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    A hopefully soon to be Sir, Donald.

    • thomasbrady said,

      October 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm

      Knight the wanker.

      How far Britain has fallen: “boring procreation sonnnets”

  2. Oprah Winfrey said,

    October 22, 2010 at 11:43 am


    Above is a recording of Don, reading a paragraph from a Nick Hornby Novel and a few pages of Anthony Cronin’s Memoir, recounting the end of his time in Paris with Brendan Behan, recorded at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, 21/11/09

  3. Noochness said,

    October 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Sir Robert Plant
    And Sir Mick Jagger
    When it’s Sir Keith Richards,
    I’ll fall on my dagger.

  4. thomasbrady said,

    October 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    If they knight that wanker Donald,
    They should consider Ronald McDonald…
    The coward obviously gets hard
    Insulting the better part of the Bard…

  5. Oprah Winfrey said,

    October 23, 2010 at 4:20 am

  6. Oprah Winfrey said,

    October 23, 2010 at 4:21 am

  7. Noochness said,

    October 23, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Lights in the sky,
    Far from insipid—
    Used to effect in
    The Day of the Triffids.

    I speak of the novel
    By Wyndham (a Brit).
    For the Yank movie version
    I care not a whit.

  8. thomasbrady said,

    October 23, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Swords knows Brady’s got Paterson’s number.
    Brits used to be a palace; now they’re lumber.

    • Noochness said,

      October 23, 2010 at 9:50 pm

      Imputing decline is the cruelest of zingers,
      And we in the U.S. can hardly point fingers.

  9. James Davis said,

    November 11, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Having read your bitter comments on Don Paterson’s excellent book I wondered what really lay behind the bile. Then I read some of your poems and I realised: jealousy.

  10. Larry said,

    November 11, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    My God your criticisms were so vile and personal! Disagree, be funny about it, but don’t be rude and insulting, it just makes you sound petty and childish. And more than a little pathetic.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 11, 2010 at 10:49 pm


      “personal?” I defend Shakespeare. I understand the sonnets better than Paterson does. Please point out where I get “personal.” That’s a false charge. This is a literary site, dealing in public realities. Sometimes we’re funny, sometimes not. (I thought Yuk Man and Daft Lady for Paterson’s ‘young man’ and ‘dark lady’ was pretty funny, but that might just be me.) Where do you see the “personal?” Do you know what “personal” means?


      • Neal Sonhagen said,

        December 11, 2019 at 10:06 pm

        It seems “personal” is a concept that escapes you, not Larry.
        To interject myself into a silly denial, here are some obvious personal attacks in your original post that do, indeed, serve to detract from whatever legitimate points you may have stumbled across in your snark foraging:

        A fellow as coarse, and just plain thick, as Don Paterson…
        This guy can’t be serious…
        …you crazy sumabitch you!
        That’s you, you stupid wanker, …
        …Donnie “in the grip” of pure stupidity…
        Speak for yourself, you dunderhead.
        Don came up with this idea in his bath, obviously…
        …nothing but crass ignorance.
        Our idiot Mr. Paterson…
        …lunkheads such as Don Paterson…

        Wit, you say? The pity goes out to you.

        • thomasbrady said,

          December 12, 2019 at 7:41 pm


          Shakespeare doesn’t know Don or me. I don’t know Don or Shakespeare. Don doesn’t know me—and certainly doesn’t know Shakespeare. Nothing I wrote identifies Don personally. Calling Don a lunkhead was rude, but Don was even more insulting to Shakespeare.


  11. November 12, 2015 at 10:41 am

    This is idiotic beyond belief. The book is excellent – even if stylistically quite different from your basic “guide books”. Paterson’s understanding of the sonnet form is remarkable as he shows in his own writings as well as in his translations and essays. The idea of the “boring recreation sonnets” is not a new one and is very plausible and takes nothing away from the genius of the author, rather, bringing Shakespeare back to be a writer among other writers during his time it makes his achievement even more remarkable, his poetry even more astounding, than some esoteric and occultist idea of “Platonic momentum” and stupid puns on black and ink etc.
    Practicing poets, who clearly see the similarities between their own work and that of Shakespeare can also much more appreciate the heights where S. took his writing, heights which we cannot reach but which have grown from the same kind of skills and inspiration (S. just had them in extraordinary amounts). Thus the understanding how from “boring procreation sonnets” can grow something different, something inherently more beautiful – as you can feel that the “finger exercises” of the opening poems starting to form into an inspired work. Yet of course they are good poetry (as Paterson says in the book) but they are not of our Bards standard, not of the standard he himself sets in the later parts of the sonnet arch.

    • thomasbrady said,

      November 12, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      I’m sure there are friends of Don out there and Don is a good guy struggling like everyone else. But “boring?” Sorry. I’m defending Shakespeare. D.P. just got in the way. Nothing personal against Don.

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