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Friday, May 16, 2008

Poetry Friday: Shakespeare, Sonnet LIII (Sonnet 53)

I love Shakespeare.  He is a total master of the written word.  This particular sonnet fascinates me.  I've wondered who this love was--was this love deceitful and then forgiven? Was this love the epitome of all perfection and he couldn't believe how lucky he was to have such a love grace his life?  Was the love's constant heart/loyalty what made her beautiful?  

What story do you think this sonnet tells?

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 blessèd shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.

Poetry Friday is over at Two Writing Teachers


Sara said...

Maybe it's just the recent Mother's Day and upcoming Father's Day, but I think "constant heart" could apply to parents also.

Long live the Bard! (Like he needs my cheering to be immortal...)

Kelly Fineman said...

I often think of his sonnets as being very like those of Elizabeth's courtiers, and so it's possible that Elizabeth is the subject of the poem. Shakespeare isn't known for writing about God and religion, but it could easily be read as praising God (shade here meaning shadow, after all).

beth said...

This is speaking to the English teacher in me!

I think the subject of this poem is the sun. Shakespeare starts off with comments about shadows in a way I think implies that the subject makes all shadows "you, but one, can every shadow lend." Also, the "Describe Adonis" lines seem to imply that describing Adonis (associated with the sun) is accurate, and the poorly imitated counterfeit (the moon) is only a reflection of "you" (the sun). The sun shines on all beauty--either physical beauty (Helen, art) or natural beauty (beauty of spring, bounty of summer).

The last three lines:
--"You in every blessed shape we know"--the sun is in everything, because it touches everything--it's not just a round ball in the sky, but something that is a part of everything.

--The last two lines indicate how in everything external, the sun takes a part. Internally, no one has as constant a heart as the sun...which here, seems to me, is a shift from talking directly about the sun, to talking about that other being that has importance in everything, touches everything, shapes everything...God.

laurasalas said...

Ooh, interesting comments! I have no idea, so I'm glad others answered and gave me much to think about...