The second stage in Shakespeare’s “seven ages” of man is the “schoolboy”. Throughout my Love’s Sonnets series, I’ve attempted to make the ‘lover’ as gender neutral as possible so anyone can imagine they are the subject of each poem. Therefore, in this sonnet, we have the “schoolchild”.
Over a schoolchild’s schoolyears, most mature from loving their parents or carers above all others, to loving others more than their parents or carers. During this process, they are pulled in two different directions. This sonnet portrays that transition as a “sailor” dangling between a “jetty” (parental figures) and a departing “ship” (a lover). As the ship heads out to sea, the sailor needs to decide which to hold on to.
The penalty for not making the decision to either remain within the family bosom or explore foreign lands… is plunging into the cold harbour and spending your life lonely and sad “with a cold and salty face”.
The Schoolchild’s Love The schoolchild’s love’s a sailor gripping tight To jetty and to slow-departing ship: Firm wharf’s the land that nurtured mind and might, Grand craft’s the promise of a thrilling trip. The sounder choice might seem to be the shore Safe solid motherland (both seed and soil) That does not shift or shake at Neptune’s roar And will not sink, nor from tempests recoil. But bedecked vessel flies flags flittering That signal fun, frolics and fantasies As it leaves portly town folk twittering – A flock of homing pigeons on the quays. By school’s last bell the child must choose one base, Or live life with a cold and salty face.