Aemilia-Lanyer

With freezing rain pelting the countryside, today seems a good time for masochistic verse. Shakespeare’s Dark Lady Sonnet 141 enumerates all the faults of his lady love–her looks, her personality and even his own sin of nonetheless loving her: 

141

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unsway’d the likeness of a man,
Thy proud hearts slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain. 

Sonnets of Shakespeare’s time where largely written following the ‘Petrarchan Ideal’ of love–that is, that the object of your lovely sonnet should be a be chaste, beautiful aristocratic woman whom the Poet can never hope to posses. Shakespeare says the hell with that. 

Quite the opposite, the Dark Lady is not pleasant in appearance–‘I do not love thee with mine eyes, For they in thee a thousand errors note’; her voice is hardly pleasing–‘Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted’; and physical contact, even sexual, is not hot–‘Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone.’ 

However, despite all this or even the Poet’s own good sense, The Dark Lady still owns the Poet’s heart: ‘But my five wits nor my five senses can Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee.’

Don’t choose this poem to read at Nuptials or to give to your beloved. 

The image is of Aemilia Lanier, an Elizabethan poet who supposedly had an affair with William Shakespeare. Some people believe she might’ve been the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. There’s scant evidence of this, and there’s even doubt this painting is her. Lanier was a woman who dared to publish a book of verse in Shakespeare’s time, so there aren’t many records left. She was a woman, after all, and except for obsessive and progressive minds like Mr. Shakespeare, Elizabethans didn’t much trouble themselves writing about real women, unless they could fit them into something like the ridiculous notion of the Petrarchan Ideal. Or if she was Queen.

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