The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

William Shakespeare and Hank Williams

It's preposterous some will say to discuss William Shakespeare in the same post with country singer/songwriter Hank Williams, Sr. (and country song writers Jean Branch and Eddie Hill) no matter how legendary Williams has become during the last half of the 20th century. Suppose we do it anyway; after all, it's my blog, my post. First, a sonnet by Shakespeare. Number 73.


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.

The quatrains are usually not divided by spacing like this but I printed them this way so you can see the three separate images he uses to make his point, which is clearly stated in the couplet at the end.

The first image involves the comparison of the speaker's life to a year and beautifully suggests that if life is a year, then he's in his late autumn, early winter. His lover should see that he doesn't have much time remaining, just part of a season.

The second image compares his life to a day and suggests that he's reached the twilight, the time of day when only the sun's after glow slowly melts into darkness which is the time for sleep (death).

The third image suggests that his life is similar to a fire which has almost burned out, only a few coals and some ashes remain.

Notice how the time span suggested by each image diminishes from a season, to an hour or two, to a very brief few minutes. This underscores the urgency of his point in the couplet. He says to his lover, you can see what my age is and how much time I have left; soon you'll be left alone. Therefore, love me now, we don't have that much together remaining.

What kind of deranged connection do I see between this sonnet and Hank Williams' song, "Someday You'll Call My Name and I Won't Answer," you ask. First, here are the lyrics. Remember, Hank, although he wrote many classic songs, didn't write this one. But he made it his own as all great singers do. Pay attention friends. Read the lyrics and then scroll down and hear Hank sing them. The beauty of this song (and especially in this particular rendition) is in its simplicity. That's only a single guitar you hear. Simple chords. Nothing else.


Someday you'll call my name and I won't answer
Someday you'll reach for me I won't be there
For you've grown tired of all the love I gave you
But someday you'll wish that I still care.

All these years how I've loved you
Still I know I claim you for my own
Someday you'll call my name and I won't answer
For someday you'll find yourself alone.

When you hair has turned from Gold to Silver
And your eyes are dimmed by passing years
You'll remember darling what I told you
There'll be no one then to dry your tears.

There'll come a time in your life dear
When you'll need someone who will care
Someday you'll call my name and I won't answer
For someday you'll find that I'm not there.

Okay, okay. The language of the sonnet is clearly superior. But the themes of both pieces are similar. Both use the aging process as a strong reminder.  The sonnet speaker says I'm not long for this world. The song speaker says, you're going to grow old one day too. And both make powerful use of pathos, the attempt to persuade by emotion. The speaker in the sonnet is clearly hoping his beautifully structured image/argument will persuade his lover to continue loving him. Maybe they've hit a rough patch. Maybe his love has begun to lose interest.

The speaker in the song lyric says that his patience will run out some day and when she needs him he won't care anymore. That's the lyric. But Hank's mornful voice evokes another possibility. When the time comes that she really does need him, he'll be gone all right--because he'll be dead.

On a personal note, one of the songwriters of "Someday" used to have a huge home on the hill at the intersection of my road and the main highway. Besides being a songwriter, he was a successful local TV personality. He's been dead now for many years. The house is gone now too, torn down three years ago, and the property subdivided into sections for a fancy new subdivision. Also, another personal note: the tree in the photo above ("bare ruin'd choirs where late the sweet birds sang") is a Poplar in my front yard.


  1. That poplar must be an American poplar (like cottonwood) not one of those straight up European ones.

  2. Succinctly:
    Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old Time is still a-flying;
    And this same flower that smiles today
    Tomorrow will be dying.
    Montana george on behalf of Herrick