–I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying
To make you hear. Your ears are soft and small
And listen to an old man not at all;
They want the young men’s whispering and sighing.
But see the roses on your trellis dying
And hear the spectral singing of the moon;
For I must have my lovely lady soon,
I am a gentleman in a dustcoat trying.
–I am a lady young in beauty waiting
Until my truelove comes, and then we kiss.
But what grey man among the vines is this
Whose words are dry and faint as in a dream?
Back from my trellis, Sir, before I scream!
I am a lady young in beauty waiting.
John Crowe Ransom
This is a Petrarchan sonnet – an eight line octave plus a six line sestet (with rhyme scheme ‘abbaacca’ / ‘addeea’). It is a well-crafted delightful conversation piece ostensibly between a gentleman wooing a young and beautiful lady.
The first line and the last line of the octave are the same. This is the story of the octave that of the gentleman trying to get the attention of the young and beautiful lady. The gentleman is old wearing a dustcoat and talks of the fading nature of the lady in terms of roses. He states emphatically that he must have my lovely lady soon and there is a ghostly presence in the spectral singing of the moon.
The first line and the last line of the sestet are the same and this is the story of the response – a lady young in beauty waiting and waiting for her truelove. The lady is young and dismissive of the grey old man and only hears him as in a dream.
I think this is really the age old story of a ‘romantic death’ in the form of a gentleman and his relationship with ‘life’ and making the most of life and the present moment. And of course the voice of death will become more prominent in the ears of the lady and eventually the old grey man will win her over. It is interesting that death is masculine and ghostly whereas life is feminine and beautiful. And very appropriate that the gentleman is wearing a dustcoat. I think there is something of a sweet pending marriage of the two taking place in this poem.
This poem gives emphasis to the present and not having idealistic expectations. Life is a present to be opened and used now– not waiting for that perfect moment before acting (carpe diem Latin – seize the day). Maybe it is time to open that special bottle of wine you have been keeping in your cellar!