This sonnet by Shakespeare shows off his playfulness, both acknowledging and making fun of the conventions of love poetry of his time, when the various attributes of female loved ones most often call upon a small number of images and metaphors. Of course, Shakespeare was equally as capable of using these images in the same way as all the other poets, but here he takes a step back and draws our attention, and his own, to the limitations of the conventional poetic language most often used. It is also useful as a permanent reminder that, whenever and wherever used, metaphors are figurative, not literal, and that truth carries over into all spheres of life. We would do well to remember it and know how to recognize the metaphor.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun (Sonnet 130)
William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Having said that, when you read this poem, you might get the impression that Shakespeare’s lovers eyes are dulled, her breasts are sallow, her cheeks pale, her breath smelly, and her voice rasping. Which all might well have been true. But, poet and smooth talker as he is, Shakespeare makes it all OK again with the final couplet in which he proclaims the depth of his love.
The Poetry Dude