Adnax Publications

  Theme 13: The Seasons
< Poem 10: Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind >
poem, commentary, analysis, criticism, exegesis

<     William Shakespeare     > 


 
Caspar David Friedrich

from As You Like It (1623, d7)
Act II, Scene vii


BLOW, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh ho! sing, heigh ho!
unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning,
most loving mere folly:

Then heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not.
Heigh ho! sing, heigh ho!
unto the green holly:

Most friendship is feigning,
most loving mere folly:

Then heigh ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

 

Commentary, analysis, criticism, exegesis

The first stanza of this poem / song affirms that the effect of man's ingratitude is more unkind than the biting effect of the winter wind, because the wind remains unseen, whereas the man guilty of ingratitude presumably stands before us in all his repulsive humanity as a permanent focus for our bitter feelings. The second stanza compares man's ingratitude to freezing temperatures, which, though able to 'warp water', ie freeze water, do not 'bite so nigh' as a man who forgets favours done. The first six lines in each stanza are followed by the same jolly six line refrain which make the generalisation from these particular observations 'most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly'.

This song is sung by Lord Amiens just after Jaques has made his famous speech which begins 'all the world's a stage' and goes on to detail the seven ages of man. The whole scene treats of the hypocrisy and ingratitude of man. In fact, hypocrisy and ingratitude are two of the central themes of the play as a whole, with the character Jaques brilliantly embodying the vituperative bitterness of one who has played the courtly game and lost. He rails against everybody and everything, but, in so doing, demonstrates that he is no better than the people against whom he rails. The trick is, of course, not to become embittered, as detailed very elegantly in this little song.

There are six syllables per line here, except the 'Heigh ho!' line which has five, and gives us time to pause there, look around to see if the audience has gone to sleep, and prepare ourselves to sing the final refrain with its terrible conclusions. And the conclusions really are terrible: 'most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly'. If there is anything that the poet was put on earth to celebrate, it was those two things, love and friendship, and they are declared to be empty. But the poetry goes on with a merry ditty.

The use of the form of a ditty to convey these solemn and disconcerting thoughts is very effective. The strong contrast between the nature of the thoughts expressed and the form of the poem / song points up the horror, and also shows the way in which the faithless individuals, the hypocrites and the ungrateful, may be overcome, not in railing against them, as does Jaques, but in accepting that things are so, and seeking solace where it is to be found. 'And this our life, exempt from public haunt, / Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, / Sermons in stones, and good in everything.' (The Duke, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii)

go to index of poets     index of poems

copyright © Adnax Publications, all rights reserved