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In Me You See

Lyrics Based on Shakespeare Sonnet 73

Music by Charles Wolff

Real Audio Clip


Shakespeare's Text

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Research Notes

Leishman points out that Shakespeare was probably about forty when he wrote this sonnet, yet, he says, "...an uninstructed foreign reader, meeting with this sonnet in an anthology, might pardonably suppose that the author of it must have been at least in his late nineties..."

K. Wilson, who believes that the sonnets are primarily a parody of the work of other sonneteers, believes that Shakespeare took a common sonnet theme and pushed it to an extreme: "Sonneteers ask their ladies to love while it is summer before winter comes, the argument for love lying in the short time it can last. Shakespeare has gone one better. He says it is already winter with him. He is at death's door. His time is very short. Since you can see this, he tells his friend, you should love me more..."

Finally, Lowers points out that the images of autumn leaves, twilight and dying embers work together, and that "From the union of these images emerges the dominant idea of impending death..."

My Interpretation

When a theatre group chooses to produce a Shakespeare play, one of the things they have to do is to determine how they will "play it" - what they understand the meaning of the play to be, and how they will present it to emphasize that meaning. Many times, in the process of learning and performing the play, new meaning possibilities emerge that were not even envisioned at first. For me, this sonnet turned out to reveal a whole new meaning during the development of the musical setting.

I chose this sonnet initially because of all the references to what it means to grow old. The specific text can be handled in a variety of ways. The most obvious approach is the expression of sadness and resignation as the end of life approaches. I considered at one point treating it as the clever, manipulative language of some "dirty old man" trying to gain sympathy from a young girlfriend.

As I started working with the music for this sonnet, something amazing happened - I started working with some minor chord sequences, in a style which made me think of late night in an L.A. recording studio. And then, at some point, I was struck by the image of these lines being spoken (sung) by someone who is dying of AIDS and finds that many of his old friends don't come around before. The lines that initially seemed to refer to old age now took on new meaning as descriptions of the effects of his illness.

The line in the final couplet about making "love more strong / to love that well which thou must leave ere long" became his plea to those who had deserted him. I even reworded this line slightly for the final chorus to refer to a love "strong enough / to hold the one that you must leave..."

One phrase in the sonnet takes on some additional meaning when the AIDS theme is applied to it, and it's one I wasn't entirely comfortable with, but I decided to leave it in because, again, it seemed to evoke some strong feelings in me. The phrase is, "Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by..." In one sense, there is a sense of AIDS as punishment - death caused by lifestyle. As I said, I wasn't entirely comfortable with including this idea in the lyric, but I also felt like the word "nourished" was important; it suggested the whole idea of support groups and caring friends, which is central to the meaning I found in the song. So it stayed in, perhaps because that single phrase raised so many more thoughts and ideas in this context.

Musical Style Considerations

I wasn't really sure, initially, what to do with this one musically - but, as described, this is a case where a particular musical style suggested a particular interpretation of the lyric, and the song, honestly, took on a life of its own after that. For me, it is one of the "best" songs to come out of the project, and certainly the one with the most emotional impact.

Lyrical Adaptation

The basic song structure came fairly easily - the three quatrains of the sonnet served as two "verses" and a "bridge," and the closing couplet as a repeated chorus.

One of the sonnet commentaries I read suggested that "Death's second self" refers to sleep, so the line "Death's second self, that seals up all in rest," became "I'll sleep no more, but lay me down to rest." "This thou perceivest" became "This you can see."

"Which thou must leave ere long" in the last line seemed like it would work better as "the one who shortly must be gone," since it's the singer who is talking about his own impending death. Other minor lyric changes were made, primarily to make the content clear to a person hearing the song.

Iambic Pentameter Musical Setting

The iambic pentameter rhythm was probably twisted more in this song than in any of the others; I took individual quatrains and sung them in such a way that each two lines has the feel of three separate "phrases," with the "A" rhymes buried in the middle of the second lines. I felt like this worked very well in this song, particualarly in that it de-emphasized the rhyming and focused more attention on the content and meaning.

Adapted Song Lyric

In Me You See

adaptation and music Copyright 1998 Charles Wolff

In me you see the twilight
Of the day, alike the sunset,
Fading in the west.
And by and by, black night
Takes me away; I'll sleep no more,
But lay me down to rest.

This you can see, let it make your love more strong
To love the one who shortly shall be gone.

That time of life you now
In me behold, when yellow leaves
Upon the trees do hang.
Upon grey boughs that shake
Against the cold, like ruin'd choirs
Where once the sweet birds sang.

This you can see, let it make your love more strong
To love the one who shortly shall be gone.

bridge:
In me you see the embers of the fire
That on the ashes of my youth does lie;
Upon the death-bed where it must expire,
Consumed by that which it was nourished by.

In me you see the twilight
Of the day, alike the sunset,
Fading in the west.
And by and by, black night
Takes me away; I'll sleep no more,
But lay me down to rest.

This you can see, let it make your love more strong
To love the one who shortly shall be gone.

This you can see, let it make your love more strong
(Strong enough) To hold the one who shortly shall be gone.

Real Audio Clip


Maintained by: Charles Wolff
Last Updated: 4/9/98