“Through Tattered Clothes” – Shakespearean (?) Sonnet

“Through Tattered Clothes Small Vices Do Appear” (Before Going Out Almost Anywhere)

Even nearing ninety, she changes,
then changes again; electric rollers
a must as twixt mirror, clothes, eye ranges–
“They just treat you better,” (some shoulders
padded, all lined) “if you dress up a bit.”

The sins she tries to hide: that she was poor
as a child; that she lived on a rick-
ety run-down farm that had no power,
no water–she switches to  yet another
suit, navy better cover for that farm’s house–
And her sister, never quite right (a shudder)
in an age when right (beneath her bright, bowed blouse)
was required–and all her lifetime’s care
of her– smoothed now beneath the just-curled hair.

I swore not to do prompts for a while — just too busy–but here’s a sonnet (of sorts) written for Kerry O’Connor’s challenge on Real Toads to write something based on lines from Shakespeare and also posted to Imperfect Prose (though not prose) where Emily Weirenga writes about how we are held by thepast.   In this case, my title is taken from some favorite lines from King Lear (Act IV, Scene VI):

“Through tattered clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.”

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28 Comments on ““Through Tattered Clothes” – Shakespearean (?) Sonnet”

  1. brian miller Says:

    running from her past still at near 90….i def know some people that fit this bill…those that had little early on that do anything to stay away from it now…

  2. I like how you’ve utilized parenthesis!! Works well great poem!

  3. janehewey Says:

    she becomes crystal clear in this sonnet, precious even. i think when we simply allow people to be who they are, the world becomes an easier place to navigate. ~jane

  4. I love a sonnet which breaks the “rules” – I believe that it’s our duty as contemporary poets to reinvent this old fave.

    Shakespeare was so good at analyzing human nature, and creating the most accurate cameo roles to demonstrate the human condition, and you have done just that in this poem. This person seems so real and believable, I thought: I know someone exactly like this, as I read. Add to that the skill with which you have constructed your lines…

    I loved this piece.

  5. Mary Says:

    What I found interesting was the first stanza where she changes things, philosophizes saying that people treat you better if you dress up a bit. Her appearance is still important at 90. I have known old people like that…and actually I do think it is true. It truly is sad though that a person of 90 would be still worried about childhood difficulties and trying to overcome them. By this time a person should have accepted and moved on instead of being ‘stuck’ in the past! Thought-provoking write here.

  6. Nice take on the old lady, hiding her sins, and dressing up so people will treat her right ~ There is dignity and honesty here ~


  7. She went from dirt poor to having status. Good for her and, if she has so many clothes she can switch and swap and change about, good for her again. 90 years old is a marvelous age.
    Nice read K 🙂

  8. ladynyo Says:

    This went straight to a personal connection..my mother at 92 is still most absorbed in ‘appearance’……

    This is topical and lovely, K,….and stings to the bone.

    Lady Nyo

  9. I absolutely love what you did with this…..the focus on the outer perfections to hide the perceived inner imperfections……really well done.

  10. Ruth Says:

    nice exploration of the “small tatters” quote, especially as regards its truth quotient – does it mean anything if we’re able to hide our ‘flaws’ from others when we are our worst (& possibly, only) critics? it’s quite sad, but very well done, Karen

  11. really, really nice! i know a few woman like this 😉

  12. A great deal of insight here. I’ve known many an old woman like this. And you’re right, Kerry’s challenge was irresistible. I’ve been unable to write anything due to illness, but had to try this one, with the Bard providing such a wealth of words to prompt us.

  13. hedgewitch Says:

    This is so neatly done, Karin–as others have said, you make a real person move through the lines in front of us, and you also make the King Lear quote contemporary and relevant(as it already is, but in language and example, I mean.) And a very musical bit of writing as well. I also picked a Lear quote, but not as, ahem… uplifting.

  14. ella Says:

    For me, it has a lyrical quality which I love 😀 It feels like Shakespeare, when I read it…he would be thrilled with what you have done! Amazing~

  15. i love re-reading your work, friend, letting it soak deep. you use the english language so intelligently. bless you.

  16. Margaret Says:

    One gets wiser with age…. but I guess that isn’t always the case. I hope to be able to chuck all my worries and insecurities to the wind and be able to be myself in another… 30 years. 🙂

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