300px-Adonis_Mazarin_Louvre_MR239

Shakespeare was no stranger to hyperbole, and in sonnet 106 he goes all the way, to the point of being ridiculous. But the language is so beautiful, and the imagery is so straight forward and accessible. that for a moment the reader might find her or himself swept up by the main argument: that the Young Man’s beauty is so great, even Art cannot capture his beauty:

106

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have express’d
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And, for they look’d but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Had eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

Could this Elizabethan Young Man have been so beautiful that even the ancients couldn’t capture him? Hardly likely. Yet Sonnet 106 declares ‘They had not skill enough your worth to sing.’   Crazy. And then Shakespeare–who in other sonnets has suggested this his verses will live on forever–admits that even present day poets cannot capture the Young Man’s beauty:

For we, which now behold these present days,
Had eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

There’s a coy lie in all this, for the Poet has made plainly obvious in many other sonnets that it’s only in Art, and in the lines of immortal verses that real beauty can be preserved. But you see, the 154 Sonnets taken as a whole form a narrative; and that story is the map of the human heart, which is ever fickle, ever changing.

The image is of how the Greeks attempted to capture the image of male beauty: an ancient statue of Adonis, the Greek god of Love, currently in the Louvre. Who better captures youthful beauty–the ancient Greek sculptors or Mr. Shakespeare, our Elizabethan poet?

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