Monday, July 23, 2012

What is your substance . . .

Sonnet for Today

The limits of beauty discussed in this sonnet are defined by the ideal of Helen and Adonis.  Whether the youthful beauty of Adonis, the handsome youth loved by Aphrodite, or the eternal beauty of Helen, daughter of Zeus and immortal through the ages both as a demi-goddess and as a beauty the poem suggests a participation of these in the human beauty of the "shadow of your beauty".  
From my recent reading of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein I thought immediately of the "Creature" upon reading the opening couplet of this sonnet.  The creature, while in possession of neither youthful nor eternal beauty did possess the ethereal nature to raise questions like this in the mind of his creator.  

Sonnet #53


What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you, but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen's cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring and foison of the year;
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear;
And you in every blessed shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,

But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

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