Tag Archives: passion

“Sonnet 20: A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted” by William Shakespeare – An Exploration of Transgender Issues

Venus and Mars

Venus and Mars

A woman’s face with Nature’s own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all “hues” in his controlling,
Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she pricked thee out for women’s pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.

In this romantic “fair youth” sonnet, Shakespeare explores the physical beauty he sees in the youth. He sees the young male as possessing both male and female characteristics, the best of both genders; hence the reference to the youth being “the master-mistress” of Shakespeare’s passion.

The first ten lines are pretty clear, where the poet describes the physical aspects of the facial features, and particularly on how the youth’s face has many feminine qualities. But the last four lines are of particular interest.

The ending focuses on the youth’s genitalia, particularly the fact that he has a penis. When I studied Shakespeare in college, the professor gave a lecture about Shakespeare’s use of the word “nothing.” Basically, nothing meant “no thing,” or the lack of a penis; in other words, nothing means vagina (think “Much Ado About Nothing”). So in this sonnet, Shakespeare is expressing his belief that the youth is really a woman trapped within a man’s body, that “one thing” was added to the youth’s “nothing.” He goes as far as to make a pun about how Nature “pricked thee out for women’s pleasure.” If you think about it, this is a pretty radical poem.

As I read about legislation being passed in the US that discriminates against transgender individuals, I cannot help but wonder why we have not evolved more as a society. These were clearly issues that have been dealt with for a long time now, and Shakespeare certainly seems to have been comfortable with this. Maybe our lawmakers should take some time and read more Shakespeare.

Well, enough politics for one day. Thanks for stopping by and having an open mind. Cheers!

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“Sonnet 43 – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Murillo - Virgin of the Rosary

Murillo – Virgin of the Rosary

OK, I know this poem is a little clichéd, but it is Valentine’s Day so I figured I would read it this morning.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

While on the surface this seems like the sappiest of love poems, there is something spiritual going on that is the heart of the poem. What Browning is expressing is love for God as opposed to love for another human being; although, I suppose you could argue that she is seeing the manifestation of God within her lover, but I will avoid going down that rabbit hole.

As I read the first line, I picture a woman, possibly a nun, meditating on God while counting on rosary beads. If you begin from this point, the entire poem becomes a meditative reflection on a devotee’s love for the Divine. This is affirmed by the capitalization of the key words referring to God: Being, Grace, Right, and of course God.

For me, the most interesting line is: “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose / With my lost saints.” It appears that Browning is expressing that religious dogma has failed and that the true path to God, and to the experience of God’s love, is through direct prayer and meditation. Praying to the saints as mediators between oneself and God pales in comparison with directly connecting to the divine spirit.

Browning concludes the sonnet with “if God choose, / I shall but love thee better after death.” I sense a deep longing in this line, a longing to become united with God. There is such passion, I cannot help but envision Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. The passion that is experienced when connecting with the Divine on a deep level is akin to the ultimate transcendent sexual experience. It is the greatest moment to which one can aspire.

Bernini - Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Bernini – Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

While I am not a Catholic, I can relate to the feeling expressed in this poem. Interaction with the Divine Spirit, through whichever path you choose, is the most powerful experience one can have. It is what keeps me searching spiritual pathways and traditions. I hope that one day I too may experience that perfect moment of bliss where I become one with the Divine.

Have a blessed Valentine’s Day!!

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“The Albatross” by Charles Baudelaire

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Often, for pastime, mariners will ensnare
The albatross, that vast sea-bird who sweeps
On high companionable pinion where
Their vessel glides upon the bitter deeps.

Torn from his native space, this captive king
Flounders on the deck in stricken pride,
And pitiably lets his great white wing
Drag like a heavy paddle at his side.

This rider of winds, how awkward he is, and weak!
How droll he seems, who lately was all grace!
A sailor pokes a pipestem into his beak;
Another, hobbling, mocks his trammeled pace.

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds,
Familiar with storms, of stars, and of all high things;
Exiled on earth amidst its hooting crowds,
He cannot walk, borne down by his giant wings.

(Translation by Richard Wilbur)

When I started reading this poem, I was expecting allusions to Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Instead, I was thrust in front of a mirror and forced to see myself reflected in Baudelaire’s words.

I confess—I’m a bit of a dork, I’m introverted, and I can be socially awkward. I am certainly more interested in lofty ideas than in team sports or what Kim Kardashian is doing. As a result, I have frequently felt like an outsider, like the albatross flopping on the deck. As a kid, I was subjected to taunting and humiliation. Thankfully, over the years, I have learned to be OK with who I am and not try to play a role just to fit in socially. Also, being a dork is kind of cool now. Strange how paradigms change.

Like the Poet Baudelaire, I revel in the clouds of my thoughts and imagination; I am familiar with the storms of my passions and emotions; I reach for the stars; and I long for high things such as wisdom, knowledge, and spiritual growth. This poem lets me know that I am not alone, that there are others, like me, who share my passions and interests. I know I’m not the only albatross out there.

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