by William Shakespeare
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 see’st 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 perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
My literature professor, shaggy, thin, and middle-aged, dug his hands into his loose and faded jeans pockets as he recited this sonnet from memory. His clothes hanger of a body faced the class, but his eyes searched out the window onto one of those bone gray autumn days when a scattering of gold and scarlet leaves still cling to their branches in a way that makes you feel anxious for some reason. He said he liked to read Sonnet 73 during this passage of fall. An acclaimed poet in his own right, he seemed to find a kind of shy pleasure in performing to us young, community college students, whether we shared his passion or not. As soon as he spilled the first lines, his limbs loosened a bit as his trunk formed a question mark. He rocked in his tread-worn loafers as his generous, glassy eyes searched the naked branches for what, I don’t know.
That day he taught a roomful of freshmen a lesson in time, love, and the laws of physics. About how ocean waves will inevitably wash away the precious monuments we build. We stared at him with dumb eyes, like how a child must stare at a tidal wave before it comes crashing down, in equal parts wonder, disbelief, and fear.
Nearly twenty years from that performance, I reunited with my old professor at a reading. Topped with shaggy hair completely white, he was a shadow of the shadow he was, but still moved by words and stories. Still powerful in his prose and poetry. I would learn from others who were there that he was a recovered alcoholic. I would learn he was divorced, maybe multiple times. His eyes, heavy with luggage, were still kind, generous, and warm. A few years after that reading, the memory of his quiet performance would resurface as I enjoyed an early autumn walk, moved by the gold cottonwood leaves dancing in the sun, when I too found myself older, worn, cracked open, and alive.