The Spring morning breaks bright and beautiful here in Southern Wisconsin, and so it seems a perfect time to enjoy Shakespeare’s Sonnet 33, which features a complex metaphor about the shining sun–but that sun’s not always what it seems:
Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine
With all triumphant splendor on my brow;
But out, alack! he was but one hour mine;
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.
Despite the poem’s bright opening, this verse is mournful. Apparently the Young Man had rejected the Poet. This sonnet, and the ones following, seem to relate to a specific episode of genuine grief, casting an autobiographical aspect to the Sonnets. These episodes don’t hold the structural majesty of a Hamlet or an Othello, but seem to muddy through a betrayal, hurt feelings, and ambivalent (but beautifully poetic) metaphoric imagery.
Anyhow, what a splendid, lovely image: the rising sun beautifies the mountains and meadows, brightens the streams, only to be blotted out by a cloud, so that the sun must sneak away into sunset. Likewise, the Young Man, a shining beauty, has let something blot his beauty–betraying himself and the Poet.
The image is of William Shakespeare, the recently rediscovered ‘Cobbe Family’ portrait. Scholars suppose this anonymous portrait of the Bard was commissioned later in his life–after Will had achieved fame–yet was painted as a representation of how Will might’ve looked in his younger years, when he was first storming the London stage.