Shakespeare on Impermanence

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme.
          Sonnet 60

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
   Sonnet 60

“The instinct for wanting good things to last and bad ones to go away has its wholesomeness; yet, beyond that, stands the greater picture of everything breaking down at some point, dying, being over. How can one manifest love, compassion, or peace? How can enlightened society be built, unless impermanence is fully embraced? How can there be healing, or a path, without wholly accepting death? It’s not a question of being callous; it’s a question of seeing the overall situation.”

It is a question of seeing reality. It is a question of the insightful realization of the Absolute. It is a question of seeing the perfection in the eternal NOW. There are many ways to express the universal truths which are not a part of humanity’s worldview. What a nightmare it would be if we lived forever. Nobody wants to live a life without end. And yet our ego does become attached to the “forms” in our life’s experience. So what is the answer? It’s obvious. We must dis-identify with our ego. When we realize that there is no “I” we are liberated from craving and aversion, from suffering, from the fear of death and from the paradigm of the relative—which was an illusion anyway—right?

So here we are back to the fundamentals of Buddha’s teaching. Dukkha, anicca and anatta—life is suffering, all form is impermanent, and there is no “me” in any case. To attain Self-realization is to realize that there is no self. This is admittedly a mind-blowing paradigm to shift to—but it is the only way out of the self-destructive insanity that humanity has created for itself. No one in their right mind would want to be contained in that narrative.

Shakespeare was not in denial of impermanence and he saw the beauty in the life we have all been given. What he did not see was the perfection in the life we have been given and the central role that we have in the creative process. We not only create our own personal reality, but we are central in the creation of the Universe itself. The Universe depends on us to reciprocate and to be “in response” to the unfolding of an infinite diversity in the eternal Now.

Indeed, Shakespeare’s “verse shall stand” and the “glory” of each person shall prevail against both the darkness and death because all form will fade and our Essence remain, untouched and unchanging. Because of this the essence of Shakespeare’s verse is felt in our hearts as vividly as it was felt in his because it is the same energy contained in the same universal and eternal heart.

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.

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