The Venus and Adonis Study Guide

With a Complete Annotated Text of the Shakespeare Poem

By Michael J. Cummings

Copyright 2016    All Rights Reserved


Index

Type of Work
Composition and Publication
Sources
Epigraph
Dedication
Format of the Poem
    Stanza and Rhyme Scheme
    Meter
Setting
Narration
Characters
Plot Summary
Climax and Conclusion
Main Goal of the Poem
Figures of Speech
References to Mythology
Themes
Complete Annotated Text of the Poem
About the Author


Type of Work

William Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis is narrative poem (a poem that tells a story). It centers on the infatuation of Venus, the goddess of love, with a young mortal named Adonis. The story originated in Greek mythology. Over the centuries, poets and other writers retold the story, interpreting it in new ways and adding new details.

Because the poem contains several characteristics of ancient epic poems, such as Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid, it has sometimes been referred to as an epyllion, or “little epic,” by scholars of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824) was said to have invented the word epyllion.

Among characteristics that Venus and Adonis shares with ancient epics are (1) it tells a story, (2) it portrays or alludes to mythological beings, and (3) its lines are in verse. The chief difference between Shakespeare's poem and ancient epics is length: Venus and Adonis has 1,194 lines. By comparison, the Iliad has approximately 12,000 lines and the Aeneid 9,900.

Composition and Publication

Shakespeare completed his manuscript of Venus and Adonis in 1593. Later that same year, Richard Field, a printer with an outstanding reputation for workmanship, published the poem in London. Field had been a boyhood acquaintance of Shakespeare when they were neighbors in Stratford, where Shakespeare was born. The poem became highly popular, and Field reprinted the book in 1594, 1595, and 1596. By 1640, twenty-four years after Shakespeare's death, the poem had gone through sixteen printings.

Sources

The main source for Shakespeare's poem was the story of Venus and Adonis as retold in the tenth book of Metamorphoses (Transformations), by the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-17 AD). Metamorphoses, one of the great works of Western literature, was studied in schools of Shakespeare's time. Although Shakespeare was no doubt familiar with Ovid's original Latin rendering of the text, he probably relied more heavily on the English translation of it by Arthur Golding (1536-1606), published in 1567. Revised editions of Golding's translation appeared in 1575, 1587, and later years. Shakespeare may also have consulted Book III of The Faerie Queen (1591), by Edmund Spenser (1553?-1599); Scillaes Metamorphosis (1589), by Thomas Lodge (1558-1625); and the unfinished manuscript of Hero and Leander, by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593).

The Epigraph

An epigraph is a quotation that precedes the main body of a literary work. Venus and Adonis begins with the following Latin epigraph from lines 35 and 36 of Elegy 25 in Amores (The Art of Love), by Ovid:
Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.
This study guide translates the quotation as follows: Let the common people admire vile things. May golden Apollo serve me a cupful of water from the fountain of Castalia.

The fountain of Castalia was at the foot of Mount Parnassus in south-central Greece, near Delphi, site of a temple honoring the sun god Apollo. Apollo dedicated the fountain to his disciples, the nine muses. As goddesses of the arts and sciences, the muses inspired the work of writers, painters, musicians, mathematicians, astronomers, and so on. Apollo and the muses were believed to congregate at the fountain and elsewhere in the vicinity of Mount Parnassus. Their association with the fountain gave rise to the belief that drinking its water would stimulate creativity.

Thus, Shakespeare's use of the Ovid quotation referring to the fountain of Castalia is a proclamation that Venus and Adonis is an inspired work, one worthy of the attention of sophisticated readers. Conveying this message was important to Shakespeare, for he was a young man struggling to make a name for himself. He had written several plays by this time (1593), but refined Londoners tended to regard works for the theater as entertainment for the boisterous masses. Many of them probably had never seen a Shakespeare play. And surely they had never read one, for Venus and Adonis was his first published work. But educated Londoners generally doted on good poetry. If Shakespeare could engage the cultured elite with his poetry, he might well win them over to his stage plays.

Dedication

Shakespeare dedicated Venus and Adonis to Henry Wriothesley (RIZE le), the Third Earl of Southampton. While still a teenager, Wriothesley (1573-1624) inherited his father's property and money. When Shakespeare published Venus and Adonis, Wriothesley was twenty, wealthy, well-educated, and an influential patron of the arts. Wriothesley's name at the beginning of the poem would signal to well-to-do aristocrats that the poem was worthy of their attention. It would also help put a jingle in Shakespeare's pocket. Several other writers dedicated works to him in the 1590s, including Barnabe Barnes (1571-1609), Thomas Nashe (1567-1601), William Burton (1575-1645), Henry Lok (1553?-1608?), and Gervase Markham (1568-1637).

Format of the Poem

Stanza and Rhyme Scheme

Venus and Adonis consists of 199 stanzas, each with six lines. In every stanza, line 1 rhymes with line 3, line 2 with line 4, and line 5 with line 6. The last two lines are indented. The first stanza of Venus and Adonis (below) demonstrates the format for the entire poem.
A  Even as the sun with purple-colour'd face
B  Had ta'en his last leave of the weeping morn,
A  Rose-cheek'd Adonis hied him to the chase;
B  Hunting he loved, but love he laugh'd to scorn;
C    Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,
C    And like a bold-faced suitor 'gins to woo him.
Meter

In a poem, meter is a rhythmic pattern in which a line has a set number of syllables, some of which are stressed and some of which are unstressed. In Venus and Adonis the meter of the lines is iambic pentameter.

To understand iambic pentameter, you first need to understand the term iamb. An iamb is a unit of rhythm consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Consider the words annoy, fulfill, pretend, regard, and serene. They are all iambs because the first syllable of each word is unstressed (or unaccented) and the second syllable is stressed (or accented): an NOY, ful FILL, pre TEND, re GARD, and ser ENE. Iambs can also consist of one word with a single unstressed (unaccented) syllable followed by another word with a single stressed (accented) syllable (example: the KING). In addition, they may consist of a final unstressed syllable of one word followed by an initial stressed syllable of the next word (example: SEVen YEARS aGO).

When a line has five iambs, it is in iambic pentameter. The prefix pent- (in pentameter) means five. The suffix -meter refers to the recurrence of iambs. Because the lines in Venus and Adonis generally each have five iambs, the lines are in iambic pentameter, as in the following stanza (lines 379-384).

             1                      2                 3              4              5
"For SHAME," | he CRIES, | "let GO, | and LET | me GO;

         1                  2                 3                  4                  5   
My DAY'S | de LIGHT | is PAST, | my HORSE | is GONE,

       1                  2                 3             4               5
And 'TIS | your FAULT | I AM | be REFT | him SO:

      1                   2                       3                   4                5
I PRAY | you HENCE, | and LEAVE | me HERE | a LONE;

          1                 2                         3                    4                5
    For ALL | my MIND, | my THOUGHT, | my BUS | y CARE,

           1             2             3                   4                    5  
    Is HOW | to GET | my PAL | frey FROM | the MARE."

Whenever two successive lines in the same meter rhyme, they are called a couplet. Thus, the last two lines in the above stanza—and in every other stanza in the poem—are couplets.

Setting

Shakespeare sets the story in a forested rural locale in the age of myth, when the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus frequently interacted with human beings. The action begins on the morning of one day and ends on the morning of the next day. The locale abounds in wildlife such as deer, foxes, lions, bears, hares, and boars.

Narration

Shakespeare uses an omniscient narrator in Venus and Adonis. An omniscient narrator is all-seeing and all-knowing. Not only does he witness all the action, but he also sees inside the minds of the characters and reveals their thoughts and feelings. He is like a movie camera that plays back all the action in a film, including a scene in which a character is trapped on an elevator, is parachuting to earth, or is having a nightmare that the audience sees on the screen. In the following stanza from Venus and Adonis, the narrator tells the reader that Venus focuses her attention on flowers that seem to be in sympathy with Adonis, who has just been killed by a boar. He then describes her outward appearance, her feelings, and her thoughts.

This solemn sympathy poor Venus noteth,     
Over one shoulder doth she hang her head,     
Dumbly she passions, franticly she doteth;     
She thinks he could not die, he is not dead:  
  Her voice is stopp’d, her joints forget to bow,     
  Her eyes are mad that they have wept till now. (1057-1062)

The narrator also frequently quotes Venus word for word when she speaks to Adonis or to herself. Less often, he quotes Adonis, who is shy and does not have much to say in the first place. Following is an example of a stanza in which the narrator quotes Venus:

"Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love
That inward beauty and invisible;
Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move
Each part in me that were but sensible:
Though neither eyes nor ears, to hear nor see,
Yet should I be in love by touching thee. (453-458) 

No quotation marks appear at the end of the stanza because the quotation has not ended; it continues in the next stanza.

Several times in the poem, the narrator refers to persons or things that did not exist in the age of myth. Placement of such persons or things in the wrong historical era is called an anachronism. Here is an example.

Now is she in the very lists of love,  
Her champion mounted for the hot encounter:     
All is imaginary she doth prove,     
He will not manage her, although he mount her. (595-598)    

Lists were barriers enclosing the area where jousting tournaments were held in the Middle Ages. The word may also refer to the enclosed area itself. Champion mounted refers to a knight on a horse. Both lists and champion mounted are part of a metaphor comparing Venus's passion to lists and Adonis to a mounted knight. (He is "mounted" because he has fallen on top of her.) But there were no lists, knights, or jousting tournaments in ancient times.

The narrator also uses the word nuns (752) and the phrase deadly bullet of a gun (461). Nuns (members of Roman Catholic religious orders), bullets, and guns did not exist until many centuries after the age of myth.

Characters

Venus: The Roman name of the goddess of love and beauty in ancient mythology. The Greek name for her was Aphrodite (AF roh DYE te). Venus was married to the blacksmith god Vulcan (Greek name, Hephaestus), who was ugly and deformed. She had many lovers among gods and men.
Adonis (uh DAHN ihs)
: Young mortal with extraordinary good looks. He was the offspring of an incestuous union between a daughter and her father. He is shy and naive. Adonis steadfastly refuses to engage in sex with the voluptuous goddess even though she offers herself to him unconditionally. He regards her as lustful, not loving.
Huntsman: Hunter who shouts “holla” from afar when Venus thinks a boar has killed Adonis. The shout enkindles hope in Venus that Adonis is still alive, for he could be the shouting hunter.

Summary

In form and feature, Adonis has no earthly equal. Although he is but a boy, such is his masculine allure that even Venus, the goddess of love, covets him. One morning, she confronts him while he hunts for wild boar on horseback. She tells him that he is “Thrice fairer than myself” (7). He is, she says, “The field’s chief flower, sweet above compare” (8). When she invites him to sit with her to receive her kisses, he refuses, for he is “frosty in desire” (36).

Venus unhorses him, so that they lie side by side, and she strokes his cheek. Whatever words of protest he musters, “she murders with a kiss” (54). When he breathes, “she feedeth on the steam as on a prey” (63). She woos him further—on and on, relentlessly—with honey-coated words. But Adonis does not respond. Eventually, he says, “Fie, no more of love! / The sun doth burn my face: I must remove” (185-186). After his horse—a handsome palfrey—runs off to woo a jennet (female donkey), Adonis scolds the love goddess:
'For shame," he cries,  'let go, and let me go;
My day's delight is past, my horse is gone,
And 'tis your fault I am bereft him so:
I pray you hence, and leave me here alone;
  For all my mind, my thought, my busy care,
  Is how to get my palfrey from the mare.' (379-384)
Venus tells him he should take a lesson from his horse, which "welcomes the warm approach of sweet desire." But Adonis's only desire is to hunt, to chase a boar, and he begs release. He promises a kiss if she allows him to go his way. When they embrace, “face grows to face” (540). When he draws backward, she presses in.
Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey,     
And glutton-like she feeds, yet never filleth;     
Her lips are conquerors, his lips obey,     
Paying what ransom the insulter willeth;    
  Whose vulture thought doth pitch the price so high,     
  That she will draw his lips’ rich treasure dry. (548-552)   

And having felt the sweetness of the spoil,     
With blindfold fury she begins to forage;     
Her face doth reek and smoke, her blood doth boil,   
And careless lust stirs up a desperate courage;     
  Planting oblivion, beating reason back,     
  Forgetting shame’s pure blush and honour’s wrack. (553-558)
But by and by, as day succumbs to evening, he resists again and she no longer restrains him.
'Sweet boy," she says, "this night I'll waste in sorrow,
For my sick heart commands mine eyes to watch.
Tell me, Love's master, shall we meet to-morrow?
Say, shall we? shall we? wilt thou make the match?'
  He tells her, no; to-morrow he intends
  To hunt the boar with certain of his friends." (583-588)
He leaves, disappearing into the darkness.

In the morning, the hunt is on. Hounds bark and bay. Attracted by the din, Venus spies the boar, “whose frothy mouth [is] bepainted all with red, / Like milk and blood being mingled both together” (901-902). The dogs run about in a frenzy, bleeding. And Adonis? Where is Adonis? She fears the worst. When she hears a “merry horn” (1025), her heart quickens with hope, and she hurries toward the sound.
And in her haste unfortunately spies
The foul boar's conquest on her fair delight;
Which seen, her eyes, as murder'd with the view,
Like stars ashamed of day, themselves withdrew. (1029-1032)
Adonis has been gored. He is dead. Venus is devastated. She says:
"Alas, poor world, what treasure hast thou lost!
What face remains alive that's worth the viewing?
Whose tongue is music now? what canst thou boast
Of things long since, or any thing ensuing?
  The flowers are sweet, their colours fresh and trim;
  But true-sweet beauty lived and died with him." (1075-1080)
From his blood, a purple flower with white dapples springs up. She plucks it so that she can keep it close to her heart. Then, tired and careworn, she leaves in her chariot, drawn by silver doves, “to immure herself and not be seen” (1194).

Climax and Conclusion

The climax of the poem is Venus's discovery of the lifeless body of Adonis. The conclusion, or denouement, is Venus's commentary on the death of Adonis.

The Main Goal of the Poem

Why did Shakespeare write Venus and Adonis? To define frustration? To condemn lust?  To profile a sexual predator? To argue for (or against) Venus's philosophy of living for the moment? To entertain voyeuristic readers? To compare virtue with transgression, or naivete with experience? To compare pagan ideals (represented by Venus) with Christian ideals (represented by Adonis)? To demonstrate the complex tangle of emotions generated by male-female relationships?

Scholarly essays have centered on all these questions. No clear consensus has emerged except on two points: Shakespeare wrote Venus and Adonis (1) to showcase his ability to write with verve and sophistication for educated and cultured audiences and (2) to make money.
Shakespeare apparently succeeded on both accounts, for the poem abounds in dazzling imagery and wordplay that made it a commercial triumph with his target audiencegoing through four printings by the end of 1596while bolstering his reputation as a writer. In fact, it is the wizardry of the wording—rather than the character development or plot—that is the most praiseworthy ingredient in the poem. It deftly describes the shifting moods of the characters, the sounds and sights of nature, and the tension between the goddess and the mortal. Through comparisons, passion turns into fire, angry words into prickly flowers, a heartbeat into an earthquake, anxiety into a cankerworm, a fleeing hare's zigzag path into a labyrinth. English poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) says of the writing:

In the Venus and Adonis, the first and most obvious excellence is the perfect sweetness of the versification; its adaptation to the subject; and the power displayed in varying the march of the words without passing into a loftier and more majestic rhythm than was demanded by the thoughts, or permitted by the propriety of preserving a sense of melody predominant. The delight in richness and sweetness of sound, even to a faulty excess, if it be evidently original, and not the result of an easily imitable mechanism, I regard as a highly favourable promise in the compositions of a young man. The man that hath not music in his soul can indeed never be a genuine poet. (Biographia Literaria. London: Fenner, 1817, Chapter 14. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6081/6081-h/6081-h.htm)

Katharine Eisaman Maus observes:

The language of Venus and Adonis is especially good at capturing the confusing, contradictory array of sensations produced by another person's unfamiliar body close to one's own, a sensation simultaneously grand, comic, oppressive, arousing, and repellant. (Qtd. in The Norton Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997, page 605)

Although scholars generally praise the writing in the poem, they tend to criticize the plot and the characterization. The plot
is simple and maybe even simplistic. Venus tempts Adonis to engage in sex with her. He does not yield. Later the boar kills him. That's it; that's the whole story.  As  for characterization, Adonis is static, lacking personality and vigor—which Shakespeare, through Venus, acknowledges:
'Fie! lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone,
Well-painted idol, image dull and dead,
Statue contenting but the eye alone. (211-213)
And Venus? She's a motor-mouth. In her campaign to conquer Adonis—to bring the statue to life, as it were—she bombards him with flattery and other verbal inducements. For example, she tells him he is “thrice fairer than myself” (7) and “the field's chief flower (8).” When flattery fails, she tries another approach—that he has an obligation to beget children.
'Torches are made to light, jewels to wear,
Dainties to taste, fresh beauty for the use,
Herbs for their smell, and sappy plants to bear:
Things growing to themselves are growth's abuse:
Seeds spring from seeds and beauty breedeth beauty;
Thou wast begot; to get it is thy duty. (183-188)
When this ploy also fails, she tells him how much she loves him.
'Had I no eyes but ears, my ears would love
That inward beauty and invisible;
Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move
Each part in me that were but sensible:
Though neither eyes nor ears, to hear nor see,
Yet should I be in love by touching thee. (453-458) 
By and by, Adonis finally agrees to kiss her. The narrator then takes over to describe the encounter.
Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey,
And glutton-like she feeds, yet never filleth;
Her lips are conquerors, his lips obey,
Paying what ransom the insulter willeth;
Whose vulture thought doth pitch the price so high,
That she will draw his lips' rich treasure dry. (568-573)
However, Adonis breaks off the kiss. Nevertheless, Venus's lips keeping moving, warning him of the dangers of the vile boar. Even after Adonis goes home, she continues to chatter—to the gods, to herself, to death.

Meanwhile, all of Venus's talk—and all the narrator's passages—enable Shakespeare to demonstrate his command of the language; he is a verbal sorcerer. His words alone, without extended plotting and characterization, can enthrall the reader or listener. 

Figures of Speech

Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.

Alliteration
: Repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words or syllables

Earth’s sovereign salve to do a goddess good. (28)

Till he take truce with her contending tears (82)

Who conquers where he comes in every jar. (100)
Notice that who alliterates with he, not where, because who begins with an h sound.

It shall be fickle, false, and full of fraud. (1141)

Seeds spring from seeds, and beauty breedeth beauty (167)

Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled (693) 
Notice that ceasing alliterates with singled because both have an s sound.
Anaphora: Repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of word groups occurring one after the other.

Now doth she stroke his cheek, now doth he frown. (45)

Or like a fairy trip upon the green,    
Or, like a nymph, with long dishevell’d hair, 146-147

Enfranchising his mouth, his back, his breast. (394)

But now I liv’d, and life was death’s annoy;    
But now I died, and death was lively joy. (497-498)  
Apostrophe: Addressing an abstraction or a thing, present or absent; addressing an absent entity or a person; addressing a deceased person.
O thou clear god, and patron of all light,   
From whom each lamp and shining star doth borrow     
The beauteous influence that makes him bright. (860-862)
Venus addresses the sun.

'Hard-favour’d tyrant, ugly, meagre, lean,    
Hateful divorce of love,’—thus chides she Death,—    
‘Grim-grinning ghost, earth’s worm, what dost thou mean    
To stifle beauty and to steal his breath.' (931-934)
Venus addresses death.
Assonance: Repetition of the same vowel sound preceded and followed by different consonant sounds
But through the flood-gates breaks the silver rain. (959)

No flower was nigh, no grass, herb, leaf, or weed. (1055)
Chiasmus: Reversing the order of words in the second of two parallel clauses or phrases.
Hunting he lov’d, but love he laugh’d to scorn. (4)

But now I liv’d, and life was death’s annoy;     
But now I died, and death was lively joy. (497-498)
Hyperbole: Exaggeration or overstatement.
My boding heart pants, beats, and takes no rest,     
But, like an earthquake, shakes thee on my breast. (647-648)

A summer’s day will seem an hour but short,     
Being wasted in such time-beguiling sport. (23-24)
Metaphor: Comparison of unlike things without using like, as, or than
flint-hearted boy (95)
Comparison of Adonis's heart to flint

Fie! lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone,    
Well-painted idol, image dull and dead,    
Statue contenting but the eye alone. (211-213)
Comparison of Adonis to a statue
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer. (231)
Comparison of Venus to a park and Adonis to a deer

These lovely caves, these round enchanting pits. (247)   
Comparison of Adonis's dimples to caves and pits

Full gently now she takes him by the hand,    
A lily prison’d in a gaol of snow. (361-362)
Comparison of Adonis's hand to a lily; comparison of Venus's hand to a jail
Affection is a coal that must be cool’d. (387)
Comparison of affection to a coal
Onomatopoeia: Figure of speech in which (1) a word mimics a sound or (2) an arrangement of words in a rhythmic pattern that suggests a sound or an image
Here come and sit, where never serpent hisses. (17)

And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud. (262)
Personification: A type of metaphor that refers to a thing or an abstraction as a person
   Bid Suspicion double-lock the door,     
Lest Jealousy, that sour unwelcome guest,     
Should, by his stealing in, disturb the feast. (448-450)
Suspicion and Jealousy are turned into persons.

For by this black-fac’d night, desire’s foul nurse,     
Your treatise makes me like you worse and worse. (773-774)
Night becomes a nurse.

‘Hard-favour’d tyrant, ugly, meagre, lean,     
Hateful divorce of love,’—thus chides she Death,—     
‘Grim-grinning ghost, earth’s worm, what dost thou mean     
To stifle beauty and to steal his breath? (931-934)
Death becomes an ugly tyrant.
Simile: Comparison of unlike things using like, as, or than

She [is] red and hot as coals of glowing fire. (35)
Comparison of the intensity of Venus's desire to the heat of a glowing coal

Upon this promise did he raise his chin     
Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave. (85-86)   
Comparison of Adonis to a bird

His louring brows o’erwhelming his fair sight,    
Like misty vapours when they blot the sky. (183-184)
Comparison of Adonis's brows to vapors

Synecdoche: F
igure of speech in which a part stands for the whole.

What face remains alive that’s worth the viewing? (1076)
Face represents the entire body.

References to Mythology

Shakespeare frequently refers directly or indirectly to figures from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Such references help him to focus attention on the place and time of the story—the ancient Mediterranean world in the age of myth—and to fashion descriptions and comparisons that
enable readers to picture or interpret what he is writing about. Lines 1 and 2 of the first stanza of the poem, for example, allude to the sun god and the goddess of the dawn, although Shakespeare does not mention the names of these deities. The lines suggest that the goddess of dawn weeps because the sun god has left her. These two lines foreshadow the rest of the poem—in particular, Venus's distress at Adonis's continual rejection of her.

Other references to mythology are explained in the notes that follow the stanzas.

Themes

Lust in the Guise of Love

Why does Venus fail to seduce Adonis? Apparently because he knows that her real motive in pursuing him is to satisfy her intense sexual craving for him. She is the goddess of lust, not love, attracted to Adonis's delicious exterior. He is a ripe apple newly fallen from the tree, and she wants a bite. She does not care about abstract qualities that he may or may not possess, such as courage, loyalty, generosity, or integrity. And she does not care about where he comes from, whom he befriends, what he eats or drinks, or what he wants to do with his life. It is his body that intrigues her. 

She uses her every charm and wile, and an ever-flowing cascade of honeyed words, to win him over. But he steadfastly refuses to do anything but kiss her—once to pacify her and once to assuage the guilt he feels after she faints (or pretends to faint). To engage in sexual intimacy merely to gratify passion, he says, is wrong. Adonis lectures her on what real love is:
‘Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,     
But Lust’s effect is tempest after sun;    
Love’s gentle spring doth always fresh remain,     
Lust’s winter comes ere summer half be done.     
  Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;     
  Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies. (799-804)
In the end, it is a dumb animal that conquers Adonis, and the goddess curses love in a bitter tirade extending from line 1135 to line 1164. True, she laments the death of Adonis with beautiful words. But it is really the death of her opportunity to couple with this beautiful creature that brings tears to her cheeks.

Power

In her effort to seduce Adonis, Venus brags to him early in the poem that she once enslaved the mighty god of war, Mars, making him beg to sleep with her. But, she says, Adonis can have her without even asking.
I have been woo’d, as I entreat thee now,     
Even by the stern and direful god of war,     
Whose sinewy neck in battle ne’er did bow,     
Who conquers where he comes in every jar;  
  Yet hath he been my captive and my slave,     
  And begg’d for that which thou unask’d shalt have. (97-102)   
This appeal to Adonis is just another of her ploys to manipulate him into becoming a sex pawn. Ironically, though, it is he, a puny mortal, who holds the real power here. He has the wherewithal to control his emotions; she does not. Consequently, she becomes Adonis's slave, just as Mars was her slave. However, whereas Venus yielded to the war god's desire for her, Adonis never yields to her desire for him. And she is powerless against his obstinacy.

Guile

Venus seems never at a loss for stratagems to get Adonis to surrender to her. Here are three examples.
One
Live for the moment. Venus uses a carpe diem (seize the day) argument to try persuade Adonis to accept pleasure when it presents itself, as his horse does when he sees the jennet. She says,

Make use of time, let not advantage slip;     
Beauty within itself should not be wasted:    
  Fair flowers that are not gather’d in their prime     
  Rot and consume themselves in little time. (129-132)  

‘Let me excuse thy courser, gentle boy;     
And learn of him, I heartily beseech thee,     
To take advantage on presented joy;    
Though I were dumb, yet his proceedings teach thee.     
  O learn to love; the lesson is but plain,     
  And once made perfect, never lost again.’ (403-408)
Two
Beget children. The goddess tells Adonis he has an obligation to father children to perpetuate the human race.

        Despite of fruitless chastity,     
Love-lacking vestals and self-loving nuns,    
That on the earth would breed a scarcity     
And barren dearth of daughters and of sons,     
  Be prodigal: the lamp that burns by night 
  Dries up his oil to lend the world his light. (751-756)
Three

Explore. Venus suggests that Adonis explore her body as if she were a public park.
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;     
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:     
  Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,     
  Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie. (231-234)
Gender Reversal

Shakespeare's poem is noteworthy for its depiction of Venus in the traditional male role as sexual aggressor and Adonis in the traditional female role as shrinking violet. Venus asserts herself early in the poem when she pulls Adonis off his horse, pushes him to the ground, and positions herself next to him. Throughout the poem she and the narrator refer to Adonis as delicate and fragile and call him beautiful rather than handsome. Line 50 uses the term "maiden burning of his cheeks" to describe their redness when he blushes. A maiden is a virginal young girl. Lines 307-312 metaphorically compare Adonis's male horse to Venus and the female donkey to Adonis.
He looks upon his love, and neighs unto her;     
She answers him as if she knew his mind;     
Being proud, as females are, to see him woo her,     
She puts on outward strangeness, seems unkind,    
  Spurns at his love and scorns the heat he feels,     
  Beating his kind embracements with her heels. (307-312)   

Text of Venus and Adonis

The following version of Venus and Adonis is based on the text in the authoritative 1914 Oxford Edition of Shakespeare's works, edited by W. J. Craig. The text numbers every fifth line. Annotations (notes and definitions) appear after each stanza.

Annotations by Michael J. Cummings


‘Vilia miretur vulgus; mihi flavus Apollo
Pocula Castalia plena ministret aqua.’

Translation

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE HENRY WRIOTHESLY,
EARL OF SOUTHAMPTON, AND BARON OF TICHFIELD.

RIGHT HONOURABLE,
        I KNOW not how I shall offend in dedicating my unpolished lines to your lordship, nor how the world will censure me for choosing so strong a prop to support so weak a burden: only, if your honour seem but pleased, I account myself highly praised, and vow to take advantage of all idle hours, till I have honoured you with some graver labour. But if the first heir of my invention prove deformed, I shall be sorry it had so noble a godfather, and never after ear so barren a land, for fear it yield me still so bad a harvest. I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your heart’s content; which I wish may always answer your own wish and the world’s hopeful expectation.
    Your honour’s in all duty,       
    WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.   

Even as the sun with purple-colour’d face     
Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn,     
Rose-cheek’d Adonis hied him to the chase;     
Hunting he lov’d, but love he laugh’d to scorn;     
  Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him,             5
  And like a bold-fac’d suitor ’gins to woo him.    

sun: In ancient Greece and Rome, poets often personified the sun as a god driving a golden chariot across the sky. This god was frequently identified as Apollo, an Olympian, and less frequently as Helios, a Titan. The Titans were a race of gods that came into being before the Olympians, who resided on Mount Olympus in Greece. Here, Shakespeare apparently is personifying the sun, using the word "face" (and, in the second line, "his") to refer to the god.
weeping: Dew-covered. Shakespeare apparently is suggesting that the goddess of the dawn (called Eos in Greek mythology and Aurora in Roman mythology) is weeping because the sun god has left her to begin driving his chariot across the sky.

hied: Hurried.
chase: Hunt; hunting expedition.
but love . . . scorn: But he laughingly scorned love. (Adonis is more interested in hunting than romance.)
Sick-thoughted . . . woo him: Sick with love for Adonis, Venus hastens to him and, like a man courting a woman, begins to woo him.
 
'Thrice fairer than myself,’ thus she began,     
‘The field’s chief flower, sweet above compare,     
Stain to all nymphs, more lovely than a man,     
More white and red than doves or roses are;      10
  Nature that made thee, with herself at strife,     
  Saith that the world hath ending with thy life.    

Thrice fairer: Three times more beautiful.
The field's chief flower: Adonis is the most beautiful flower in the field.
Stain: So beautiful is Adonis that nature goddesses (nymphs) are, by comparison, an ugly stain.
More white . . . are: More white than doves and more red than roses.
Nature . . . thy life:  When Nature made you, she said the world would end, for she could never again make anyone so beautiful as you.
 
‘Vouchsafe, thou wonder, to alight thy steed,     
And rein his proud head to the saddle-bow;     
If thou wilt deign this favour, for thy meed      15
A thousand honey secrets shalt thou know:     
   Here come and sit, where never serpent hisses;     
   And being set, I’ll smother thee with kisses:    

Vouchsafe . . . saddle-bow: Please, you wondrous young man, get off your horse and tie the reins to the saddle-bow.
If thou . . . know: If you will grant this favor, I will reward you with a thousand secrets about making love.
 
‘And yet not cloy thy lips with loath’d satiety,     
But rather famish them amid their plenty,      20
Making them red and pale with fresh variety;    
Ten kisses short as one, one long as twenty:     
  A summer’s day will seem an hour but short,     
  Being wasted in such time-beguiling sport.’   

And yet . . . twenty: And yet don't gorge on love to the point that your lips no longer enjoy it. Instead, be starved for more love, making your lips red and pale with fresh desire. I can give you ten kisses as short as one or one kiss as long as twenty.

With this she seizeth on his sweating palm,      25
The precedent of pith and livelihood,     
And, trembling in her passion, calls it balm,     
Earth’s sovereign salve to do a goddess good:     
  Being so enrag’d, desire doth lend her force     
  Courageously to pluck him from his horse.      30

With this . . . palm: And then she seized his sweating palm.
precedent: Indicator.
pith: Inner strength; substance.
livelihood: Vigor; energy; spirit.
balm: Salve or oil that comforts and soothes.
sovereign: Best; most effective.
enrag'd: Aroused.
 
Over one arm the lusty courser’s rein,     
Under her other was the tender boy,     
Who blush’d and pouted in a dull disdain,     
With leaden appetite, unapt to toy;     
  She red and hot as coals of glowing fire,      35
  He red for shame, but frosty in desire.    

lusty courser's rein: The rein of the powerful horse.
pouted: Exhibited displeasure or annoyance.
dull disdain: Cheerless contempt.
With leaden . . . toy: With an unresponsive appetite, not inclined to toy around.
 
The studded bridle on a ragged bough     
Nimbly she fastens;—O! how quick is love:—     
The steed is stalled up, and even now     
To tie the rider she begins to prove:      40
  Backward she push’d him, as she would be thrust,     
  And govern’d him in strength, though not in lust.    

Studded bridle: A bridle is a piece of equipment with leather bands that fit over the head of a horse. The bridle is attached to the bit in the horse's mouth. The bridle has studs, small ornaments of metal that rise above the surface of the leather bands.
O! how . . . love: Venus, overcome with desire, ties up the horse as fast as she can.
stalled up: Tied to the tree branch.
To tie . . . prove: Now she tries to detain Adonis.
Backward . . . lust: Backward she pushed him in a way that she would like him to thrust her. Thrust (line 41) appears to have a sexual connotation.
And govern'd . . . lust: And overpowered him, but not sexually.
 
So soon was she along, as he was down,     
Each leaning on their elbows and their hips:     
Now doth she stroke his cheek, now doth he frown,      45
And ’gins to chide, but soon she stops his lips;     
  And kissing speaks, with lustful language broken,     
  ‘If thou wilt chide, thy lips shall never open.’    

So soon . . . hips: Quickly she was alongside him. Both were lying down, leaning on their elbows and hips as they faced each other.
'gins to chide: Begins to complain; begins to rebuke her.
stops his lips: Stops his lips by kissing them.
And kissing . . . open': And while kissing him, stops a moment and says with lustful language, "If you are going to complain, I will kiss you so much that your lips never have a chance to open,"
 
He burns with bashful shame; she with her tears     
Doth quench the maiden burning of his cheeks;      50
Then with her windy sighs and golden hairs     
To fan and blow them dry again she seeks:     
  He saith she is immodest, blames her miss;     
  What follows more she murders with a kiss.    

maiden burning: Adonis blushes like a shy young girl.
blames her miss: Accuses her of going amiss—that is, accuses her of improper behavior.
What  . . . kiss: As he tries to say more, she stops him by kissing him.
 
Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast,      55
Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh and bone,     
Shaking her wings, devouring all in haste,                
Till either gorge be stuff’d or prey be gone;     
  Even so she kiss’d his brow, his cheek, his chin,     
  And where she ends she doth anew begin.      60

empty . . . fast: Like an empty eagle, starved with fasting.
tires: Pulls apart tough meat; tears.
gorge: Throat; stomach.
 
Forc’d to content, but never to obey,     
Panting he lies, and breatheth in her face;     
She feedeth on the steam, as on a prey,     
And calls it heavenly moisture, air of grace;     
  Wishing her cheeks were gardens full of flowers,      65
  So they were dew’d with such distilling showers.    

Forc'd to content: Forced to lie still.
steam: Exhaled breath.
such distilling showers: His breath distilled into moisture.
 
Look! how a bird lies tangled in a net,     
So fasten’d in her arms Adonis lies;     
Pure shame and aw’d resistance made him fret,     
Which bred more beauty in his angry eyes:      70
  Rain added to a river that is rank     
  Perforce will force it overflow the bank.  

Look! . . . lies: Look! Adonis is fastened in her arms like a bird tangled in a net.
Pure . . . fret: His pure shame and his resistance to her advances made him fret, especially since he was in awe of her.
Rain . . . bank: Rain added to a river that is full will force it to overflow its banks. (The anger of Adonis—and the desire of Venus—are both rising, like a rain-swollen river.)
  
Still she entreats, and prettily entreats,     
For to a pretty ear she tunes her tale;     
Still is he sullen, still he lowers and frets,      75
’Twixt crimson shame and anger ashy-pale;     
  Being red, she loves him best; and being white,     
  Her best is better’d with a more delight.   

Still she . . . ashy-pale: Still she begs him to yield, and does so prettily, for she is speaking to his pretty ear. Still he is sullen, still he frowns and frets, between crimson shame and anger pale as ashes.
Being red . . . delight: She loves him best when his face is red with shame.  But she loves him even more, bettering her best, when he is white with anger.

Look how he can, she cannot choose but love;     
And by her fair immortal hand she swears,      80
From his soft bosom never to remove,     
Till he take truce with her contending tears,     
  Which long have rain’d, making her cheeks all wet;     
  And one sweet kiss shall pay this countless debt.

Look . . . can: No matter how he looks.
And by . . . debt: And she swears with her fair immortal hand never to remove herself from him until he stops the tears from raining on her cheeks by kissing her.

Upon this promise did he raise his chin      85
Like a dive-dapper peering through a wave,     
Who, being look’d on, ducks as quickly in;     
So offers he to give what she did crave;     
  But when her lips were ready for his pay,     
  He winks, and turns his lips another way.      90

promise: Promise of a kiss
Like a . . . wave: Like a dive-dapper (small bird capable of diving into water and swimming) raising his head through a wave and peering around.
Who . . . in: Who, being seen, dives back into the water.
 
Never did passenger in summer’s heat     
More thirst for drink than she for this good turn.     
Her help she sees, but help she cannot get;     
She bathes in water, yet her fire must burn:     
  ‘O! pity,’ ’gan she cry, ‘flint-hearted boy:      95
  ’Tis but a kiss I beg; why art thou coy?     

passenger: Traveler.
good turn: A kiss.
Her help: Adonis.
'O! . . . boy: Have pity on me, hard-hearted boy, she began to cry.
coy: Shy; playing hard to get.
 
‘I have been woo’d, as I entreat thee now,     
Even by the stern and direful god of war,     
Whose sinewy neck in battle ne’er did bow,     
Who conquers where he comes in every jar;     100                        
  Yet hath he been my captive and my slave,     
  And begg’d for that which thou unask’d shalt have.     

'I have . . . war: I have been wooed, just as I am wooing you now, by the stern and fearsome god of war. “God of war” is an allusion to the god of war in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. His Greek name was Ares (AIR eez). His Roman name was Mars.
sinewy: Muscular.
Who . . . jar: Who conquers whoever gets in his way in a jarring battle.
Yet . . . have: Yet, as a captive and slave to my beauty, he had to beg for the love that I will give you even though you don't ask for it.
 
‘Over my altars hath he hung his lance,     
His batter’d shield, his uncontrolled crest,     
And for my sake hath learn’d to sport and dance,     105
To toy, to wanton, dally, smile, and jest;     
  Scorning his churlish drum and ensign red,     
  Making my arms his field, his tent my bed.     

'Over . . . crest: Over the altars honoring me he has hung his lance, his battered shield, and his helmet crest, an emblem of prowess that no one could control.
And for . . . jest: And just for me, he learned to skip about and dance, flirt, play sexual games, smile, and jest.
Scorning . . . bed: Scorning his drums of war and red military flags to make my arms his field of activity and his tent my bed.
 
‘Thus he that overrul’d I oversway’d,     
Leading him prisoner in a red-rose chain:     110
Strong-temper’d steel his stronger strength obey’d,     
Yet was he servile to my coy disdain.     
  O! be not proud, nor brag not of thy might,     
  For mastering her that foil’d the god of fight.     

'Thus . . . oversway'd: Thus I ruled over a god who ruled over men at war.
red-rose chain: Chain made of red roses, a metaphor for Venus's bewitching charms.
Strong-tempered . . . disdain: Weapons made of the strongest steel could not stand up to him. Yet this powerful god served my wiles and whims and yielded to my rebukes.
O! be . . . fight: Oh, do not be proud of—or brag about—your ability to enchant the goddess who conquered the god of war.
 
‘Touch but my lips with those fair lips of thine,—     115
Though mine be not so fair, yet are they red,—     
The kiss shall be thine own as well as mine:     
What seest thou in the ground? hold up thy head:     
  Look in mine eyeballs, there thy beauty lies;     
  Then why not lips on lips, since eyes in eyes?     120

What seest . . . eyes: Why are you looking down? Hold up your head and look into my eyes. There you will see the reflection of your own beauty. Since your eyes are meeting my eyes, why don't our lips meet too?
 
‘Art thou asham’d to kiss? then wink again,     
And I will wink; so shall the day seem night;     
Love keeps his revels where there are but twain;     
Be bold to play, our sport is not in sight:     
  These blue-vein’d violets whereon we lean     125
  Never can blab, nor know not what we mean.

'Art . . . night: Are you embarrassed to kiss me in broad daylight? If so, then close your eyes, and I will do the same. In this way, we will turn day into night so that you can kiss me.
Love . . . sight: Love happens when two persons are alone. So be bold to play the game of love, for no one can see us.
These . . . mean: These blue-veined violets that we lean on can never tell on us. They don't even know what's going on.
     
 
‘The tender spring upon thy tempting lip     
Shows thee unripe, yet mayst thou well be tasted.     
Make use of time, let not advantage slip;     
Beauty within itself should not be wasted:     130
  Fair flowers that are not gather’d in their prime     
  Rot and consume themselves in little time.     

'The tender . . . tasted: The soft hairs around your lips show that you are not mature enough for a man's beard, but you are ripe enough for love.
Make . . . wasted: So seize the moment rather than let it slip away. Don't allow beauty to be wasted.
 
‘Were I hard-favour’d, foul, or wrinkled-old,     
Ill-nurtur’d, crooked, churlish, harsh in voice,     
O’erworn, despised, rheumatic, and cold,     135
Thick-sighted, barren, lean, and lacking juice,     
  Then mightst thou pause, for then I were not for thee;     
  But having no defects, why dost abhor me?   

Were . . . juice: If I were ugly, foul, wrinkled, discourteous, bent with age, and vulgar; if I had a grating voice and were worn out, despised, diseased with rheumatism, and cold; if I had bad eyesight and were infertile, skinny, and lacking sexual powers.    
 
‘Thou canst not see one wrinkle in my brow;     
Mine eyes are grey and bright, and quick in turning;     140
My beauty as the spring doth yearly grow;     
My flesh is soft and plump, my marrow burning;     
  My smooth moist hand, were it with thy hand felt,     
  Would in thy palm dissolve, or seem to melt.     

My beauty . . . grow: My beauty is eternal, constantly renewing itself.
my marrow burning: My spirit burns with vigor and desire.
My smooth . . . melt: My smooth moist hand is so soft it would seem to melt if you held it.
 
‘Bid me discourse, I will enchant thine ear,     145
Or like a fairy trip upon the green,     
Or, like a nymph, with long dishevell’d hair,     
Dance on the sands, and yet no footing seen:     
  Love is a spirit all compact of fire,     
  Not gross to sink, but light, and will aspire.     150

'Bid me discourse: If you ask me to talk.
trip: Dance.
nymph: Any of the beautiful nature goddesses living in forests or near waterways.
Dance . . . aspire: Dance on the sands without leaving footprints. For love is a spirit made of fire, which is light and does not sink, and rises toward the heavens.
 
‘Witness this primrose bank whereon I lie;     
These forceless flowers like sturdy trees support me;     
Two strengthless doves will draw me through the sky,     
From morn till night, even where I list to sport me:     
  Is love so light, sweet boy, and may it be     155
  That thou shouldst think it heavy unto thee?     

primrose: wildflower with petals of pink, yellow, white, blue, or red.
These . . . me: I am so light with love that these delicate primroses support me. Two gentle doves can draw me through the sky from morning till night, to wherever I wish to go to entertain myself.
Is love . . . thee: Love is so light, sweet boy, but may it be that you think it is dull and uninteresting to you?
 
‘Is thine own heart to thine own face affected?     
Can thy right hand seize love upon thy left?     
Then woo thyself, be of thyself rejected,     
Steal thine own freedom, and complain on theft.     160  
  Narcissus so himself himself forsook,     
  And died to kiss his shadow in the brook.

'Is thine . . . left: Are you in love with yourself? Can your right hand make love to your left? Then woo yourself and be rejected by yourself the way you are rejecting me. Rob yourself of the freedom to love, then complain about the robbery.
Narcissus: In Greek mythology, a handsome youth who rejected the love of others. Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution, punished him by leading him to a pool of water. When he saw his image reflected in the water, he fell in love with it. So enthalled with it was he that he never left the pool. Eventually, he pined away and died.

‘Torches are made to light, jewels to wear,     
Dainties to taste, fresh beauty for the use,     
Herbs for their smell, and sappy plants to bear;     165                 
Things growing to themselves are growth’s abuse:     
  Seeds spring from seeds, and beauty breedeth beauty;     
  Thou wast begot; to get it is thy duty.     

Dainties: Sweets.
fresh . . . use: Fresh beauty to be used, not just to be admired.
sappy . . . bear: Vigorous plants to reproduce.
Things . . . abuse: Things that refuse to share themselves abuse their purpose.
Seeds . . . duty: Seeds bear other seeds, and beautiful creatures produce others like them. Others begot you; now it is your turn to beget children.
 
‘Upon the earth’s increase why shouldst thou feed,     
Unless the earth with thy increase be fed?     170
By law of nature thou art bound to breed,     
That thine may live when thou thyself art dead;     
  And so in spite of death thou dost survive,     
  In that thy likeness still is left alive.’

'Upon . . . alive: You desire what the earth has produced for you but are unwilling to be productive yourself. But nature says you are bound to produce children as bequests to the world when you die. (Venus is scolding Adonis for taking advantage of the fruits of the earth—people, plants, animals, etc.— without producing offspring himself. But Venus isn't really concerned about whether he has children. She just wants to persuade him to make love to her.
 
By this the love-sick queen began to sweat,     175
For where they lay the shadow had forsook them,     
And Titan, tired in the mid-day heat,     
With burning eye did hotly overlook them;     
  Wishing Adonis had his team to guide,     
  So he were like him and by Venus’ side.     180

By this: By this time.
Titan: Helios, a Greek god who, with the golden chariot he drove across the sky each day, represented the sun.
With . . . side: Observing Venus and Adonis with his burning eye, Titan (Helios) wished he could trade places with Adonis. While Adonis drove the team of horses pulling the golden chariot, Titan would come to earth and lie next to Venus.
 
And now Adonis with a lazy spright,     
And with a heavy, dark, disliking eye,     
His louring brows o’erwhelming his fair sight,     
Like misty vapours when they blot the sky,     
  Souring his cheeks, cries, ‘Fie! no more of love:     185
  The sun doth burn my face; I must remove.’     

And now . . . sky: And now Adonis—with a lazy spirit and a frowning eye, and with dark and sullen brows casting a shadow over his fair face like a mist hiding the sun.
Souring . . . remove: Scowling, he cries, “A curse on you! Speak no more of love. The sun is burning my face, and I must leave.”

‘Ay me,’ quoth Venus, ‘young, and so unkind?     
What bare excuses mak’st thou to be gone;     
I’ll sigh celestial breath, whose gentle wind     
Shall cool the heat of this descending sun:     190
  I’ll make a shadow for thee of my hairs;     
  If they burn too, I’ll quench them with my tears.    

bare: Weak.

"The sun that shines from heaven shines but warm,     
And lo! I lie between that sun and thee:     
The heat I have from thence doth little harm,     195
Thine eye darts forth the fire that burneth me;     
  And were I not immortal, life were done     
  Between this heavenly and earthly sun.    

The heat . . . me: The heat I feel from the sun doesn't bother me. But the fire (anger) you project from your eyes burns me.
And were . . . sun: And if I were not immortal, my life would end here between the sun in the heavens and the sun on earth, Adonis.
 
‘Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel?     
Nay, more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth.     200
Art thou a woman’s son, and canst not feel     
What ’tis to love? how want of love tormenteth?     
  O! had thy mother borne so hard a mind,     
  She had not brought forth thee, but died unkind.    

Art . . . relenteth: Are you stubborn, unyielding, and hard as steel? In fact, you are more unyielding than flint. Over time, flint becomes furrowed and rutted by rain. (In this observation, Venus implies that her tears have no effect on hard-hearted Adonis.)
Art . . . tormenteth: As a woman's son, you should be able to feel what it is to love. And you should be able to understand how tormenting it is to be denied love.
O! . . . unkind: Oh, if your mother's mind had been as hard and unkind as yours, she would have chosen to die rather than bring forth a child.
 
"What am I that thou shouldst contemn me this?     205
Or what great danger dwells upon my suit?     
What were thy lips the worse for one poor kiss?     
Speak, fair; but speak fair words, or else be mute:     
  Give me one kiss, I’ll give it thee again,     
  And one for interest, if thou wilt have twain.     210

"What am . . . suit: What am I that you should scorn me this way? What great danger can result from my wooing of you?
What were . . . mute: How would your lips be worse if you gave me one poor kiss? Speak, fair one, but speak fair words or else be silent.
Give me . . . twain: Give me one kiss, and I'll give it back to you with interest—if you will accept two kisses.
 
"Fie! lifeless picture, cold and senseless stone,     
Well-painted idol, image dull and dead,     
Statue contenting but the eye alone,     
Thing like a man, but of no woman bred:     
  Thou art no man, though of a man’s complexion,     215
  For men will kiss even by their own direction.’    

"Fie! . . . bred: Curses! You are nothing but a lifeless picture, cold and unfeeling as stone. You are a well-painted idol, a mere image that is dull and dead—a statue to please the eye alone, a thing that looks like a man but was not born of a woman.
Thou art . . . direction: You are no man, though you have the appearance of one. A man would kiss me without being told to do so.
 
This said, impatience chokes her pleading tongue,     
And swelling passion doth provoke a pause;     
Red cheeks and fiery eyes blaze forth her wrong;     
Being judge in love, she cannot right her cause:     220
  And now she weeps, and now she fain would speak,     
  And now her sobs do her intendments break.    

This said . . . pause: This said, impatience and rising passion (perhaps both lust and anger) cause her to pause, without talking.
Red . . . cause: Her red cheeks and fiery eyes tell Adonis that she thinks he has wronged her. Although she presides as a judge in settling cases involving love, she doesn't know what to do in this case.
And now . . . break: And now she weeps and would gladly speak, but her sobs prevent her from doing what she intends.
 
Sometimes she shakes her head, and then his hand;     
Now gazeth she on him, now on the ground;     
Sometimes her arms infold him like a band:     225
She would, he will not in her arms be bound;     
  And when from thence he struggles to be gone,     
  She locks her lily fingers one in one.    

She would . . . one: She wants to keep him imprisoned in her arms, but he struggles to free himself and leave. Then she locks her fingers to keep him bound.
 
‘Fondling,’ she saith, ‘since I have hemm’d thee here     
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,     230
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;     
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:     
  Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry,     
  Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.    

Fondling: This word is a verb (part of to fondle), but Venus uses it as a noun to refer to Adonis. It appears to be a term of endearment, such as "Dear child" or "silly boy."
Within . . . pale: Within the ivory arms that encircle you. Venus is comparing herself to a pale, a barrier or fence enclosing something.
I'll be . . . fountains lie: Venus uses another of her metaphors to suggest that he make love to her. In this metaphor, her body becomes a park in which Adonis, a deer, may freely roam.
 
‘Within this limit is relief enough,     235
Sweet bottom-grass and high delightful plain,     
Round rising hillocks, brakes obscure and rough,     
To shelter thee from tempest and from rain:     
  Then be my deer, since I am such a park;     
  No dog shall rouse thee, though a thousand bark.’     240

Relief: Relaxation, entertainment, sustenance.
bottom-grass: Grass covering bottomland, near a waterway. This term apparently alludes to pubic hair.
Round rising hillocks: Small, round hills, apparently alluding to breasts.
Brakes: Thickets or bushes that are dark and rough, apparently alluding again to body hair.
 
At this Adonis smiles as in disdain,     
That in each cheek appears a pretty dimple:     
Love made those hollows, if himself were slain,     
He might be buried in a tomb so simple;     
  Foreknowing well, if there he came to lie,     245
  Why, there Love liv’d and there he could not die.     
 
At this . . . simple: Adonis merely smiles at her words in disdain. As he does so, a dimple appears in each cheek. Cupid, the god of love, made them. If Cupid were slain, he could be buried in one of them—a tomb so simple.
Foreknowing . . . die: But Cupid knows well that if he came to lie in a dimple, it would protect him; he would never die.

These lovely caves, these round enchanting pits,     
Open’d their mouths to swallow Venus’ liking.     
Being mad before, how doth she now for wits?     
Struck dead at first, what needs a second striking?     250
  Poor queen of love, in thine own law forlorn,     
  To love a cheek that smiles at thee in scorn!    

caves, pits: Dimples.
liking: Desire.
Being . . . wits: Being mad with desire before, how is her state of mind now?
Struck . . . striking: Struck dead when she first saw him, what is the need for such an experience now?
Poor . . . scorn: Poor queen of love, abandoned by your power to govern the emotions of love, you love a cheek that smiles at you in scorn.

Now which way shall she turn? what shall she say?     
Her words are done, her woes the more increasing;     
The time is spent, her object will away,     255
And from her twining arms doth urge releasing:     
  ‘Pity,’ she cries; ‘some favour, some remorse!’     
  Away he springs, and hasteth to his horse.    

The time . . . releasing: Time is running out, and soon Adonis will go away. Even now, he tells her to release him.
"Pity . . . horse: Have pity on me. Show me some favor. Or show me some regret for your rejection of me.
hasteth: Hastens.
 
But, lo! from forth a copse that neighbours by,     
A breeding jennet, lusty, young, and proud,     260
Adonis’ tramping courser doth espy,     
And forth she rushes, snorts and neighs aloud:     
  The strong-neck’d steed, being tied unto a tree,     
  Breaketh his rein, and to her straight goes he.    

copse: Thicket.
jennet: Female donkey.
courser: Horse.
espy: Spies; sees; perceives.
 
Imperiously he leaps, he neighs, he bounds,     265
And now his woven girths he breaks asunder;     
The bearing earth with his hard hoof he wounds,     
Whose hollow womb resounds like heaven’s thunder;     
  The iron bit he crushes ’tween his teeth,     
  Controlling what he was controlled with.     270

girths: Straps that keep a saddle in place.
asunder: Into pieces.
bearing: Supporting.
hollow womb: Interior space, such as a cavern.
iron bit: Metal mouthpiece that is part of a horse's bridle. The bridle is attached to reins that a rider pulls to turn or stop a horse.
 
His ears up-prick’d; his braided hanging mane     
Upon his compass’d crest now stand on end;     
His nostrils drink the air, and forth again,     
As from a furnace, vapours doth he send:     
  His eye, which scornfully glisters like fire,     275
  Shows his hot courage and his high desire.    

up-prick'd: Pricked up.
mane: Long hair growing from the top of a horse's neck and hanging down the sides.
compass'd crest: Arching strip of hair growth between a horse's back and head.
Stand: Stand is a plural verb attempting to agree with the singular noun mane.
His nostrils . . . send: His nostrils drink the air, then exhale hot vapors as if from a furnace.
glisters: Glisters means glistens, but here it seems to mean burns.
 
Sometime he trots, as if he told the steps,     
With gentle majesty and modest pride;     
Anon he rears upright, curvets and leaps,     
As who should say, ‘Lo! thus my strength is tried;     280
  And this I do to captivate the eye     
  Of the fair breeder that is standing by.’    

Sometime: Sometimes.
told: Counted.
Anon: Soon.
Curvet: Small jump in which the forelegs leave the ground first, then return just as the hind legs leave the ground.
As who . . . tried: As if to say, "See how I show off my strength to attract the eye of the beautiful jennet standing by.
 
What recketh he his rider’s angry stir,     
His flattering ‘Holla,’ or his ‘Stand, I say?’     
What cares he now for curb or pricking spur?     285
For rich caparisons or trapping gay?     
  He sees his love, and nothing else he sees,     
  Nor nothing else with his proud sight agrees. 

What . . . say: What heed does he give to his rider's angry words—his flattering holla (cry for attention) or his "Stand, I say"? 
curb: The bit in the horse's mouth.
caparison: Richly ornamented covering for a horse or its saddle.
trapping gay: Colorful adornment.
He sees . . . agrees: He sees only his love and nothing else, for nothing else is worthy to focus on.
 
Look, when a painter would surpass the life,     
In limning out a well-proportion’d steed,     290
His art with nature’s workmanship at strife,     
As if the dead the living should exceed;     
  So did this horse excel a common one,     
  In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone.    

Look . . . exceed: Look, when an artist tries to paint an image of a horse more lifelike than the horse itself—using artificial techniques to outdo the work of nature—he creates a dead, lifeless picture that cannot compete with the image of a moving, breathing horse.
So did . . . bone: So it was that this horse excelled other horses—as if they were mere paintings—in shape, courage, color, pace, and bone.
 
Round-hoof’d, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,     295
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostril wide,     
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong,     
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:     
  Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,     
  Save a proud rider on so proud a back.     300

fetlock: Tuft of hair above the back of a hoof.
shag: Shaggy.
crest: Arching strip of hair growth between a horse's back and head.
passing strong: Extremely powerful.
mane
 
Sometimes he scuds far off, and there he stares;     
Anon he starts at stirring of a feather;     
To bid the wind a base he now prepares,     
And whe’r he run or fly they know not whether;     
  For through his mane and tail the high wind sings,     305
  Fanning the hairs, who wave like feather’d wings.   

scuds: Runs swiftly and smoothly.
Anon . . . feather: In a moment, he comes to attention at the sound of a bird flapping its wings.
base: Allusion to "prisoner's base," a children's game in which a player is chased if he leaves a designated area, or base. The horse is inviting the wind to play the game.
And whe'r . . . wings: And whether he is running or flying the spectators don't know, for the wind blowing through his mane and tail makes them wave like feathered wings.
 
He looks upon his love, and neighs unto her;     
She answers him as if she knew his mind;     
Being proud, as females are, to see him woo her,     
She puts on outward strangeness, seems unkind,     310
  Spurns at his love and scorns the heat he feels,     
  Beating his kind embracements with her heels.    

She puts . . . unkind: She plays hard to get.
Spurns . . . heels: Rejects his love and scorns the passion he feels, kicking back when he attempts to mate with her.
 
Then, like a melancholy malcontent,     
He vails his tail that, like a falling plume,    
Cool shadow to his melting buttock lent:     315
He stamps, and bites the poor flies in his fume.     
  His love, perceiving how he is enrag’d,     
  Grew kinder, and his fury was assuag’d.    

melancholy malcontent: Dejected sorehead.
vails: Lowers.
Cool . . . lent: Provided a cooling shadow for his overheated buttock.
He  . . . fume: In his anger, he stamps and bites at the poor flies.
His love . . . assuaged: The jennet, perceiving his anger, grew kinder; and his fury eased.
 
His testy master goeth about to take him;     
When lo! the unback’d breeder, full of fear,     320
Jealous of catching, swiftly doth forsake him,     
With her the horse, and left Adonis there.     
  As they were mad, unto the wood they hie them,     
  Out-stripping crows that strive to over-fly them. 

His . . . Adonis there: His irritated master, Adonis, goes to one side of the horse to take him.
unbacked: This word can mean (1) unmated or (2) never tamed to carry a rider.
Jealous . . . there: Afraid of being caught, swiftly runs off—followed by the horse—leaving Adonis there.
As they . . . over-fly them: As if mad, they gallop off to woods with greater speed than crows striving to fly over them.

All swoln with chafing, down Adonis sits,     325
Banning his boisterous and unruly beast:     
And now the happy season once more fits,     
That love-sick Love by pleading may be blest;     
  For lovers say, the heart hath treble wrong     
  When it is barr’d the aidance of the tongue.     330

All . . . sits: Full of anger and irritation, Adonis sits down.
Banning: Archaic word for cursing.
And now . . . blest: And once more the time is right for lovesick Venus to plead with Adonis, and perhaps get him to yield to her.
For lovers . . . tongue: For lovers say that the heart has triple the difficulty in pleading its case without the aid of speech.

An oven that is stopp’d, or river stay’d,     
Burneth more hotly, swelleth with more rage:     
So of concealed sorrow may be said;     
Free vent of words love’s fire doth assuage;     
  But when the heart’s attorney once is mute,     335
  The client breaks, as desperate in his suit.    

stopped: closed.
stayed: dammed.
So of . . . said: The same can be said of sorrow held in, unexpressed.
Free . . . assuage: Freely talking about one's feelings brings some relief.
But . . . suit: But when the heart's attorney (speech) remains silent the client (lover) becomes desperate.
 
He sees her coming, and begins to glow,—     
Even as a dying coal revives with wind,—     
And with his bonnet hides his angry brow;     
Looks on the dull earth with disturbed mind,     340
  Taking no notice that she is so nigh,     
  For all askance he holds her in his eye.    

glow: Redden with anger.
bonnet: cap.
For all . . . eye: For he looks at her from the corner of his eye.
 
O! what a sight it was, wistly to view     
How she came stealing to the wayward boy;     
To note the fighting conflict of her hue,     345
How white and red each other did destroy:     
  But now her cheek was pale, and by and by     
  It flash’d forth fire, as lightning from the sky.    

wistly: Intently; carefully.
wayward: Obstinate; uncontrollable; rebellious.
To note . . . destroy: To note how the red and white hues of her complexion fought with each other.
 
Now was she just before him as he sat,     
And like a lowly lover down she kneels;     350
With one fair hand she heaveth up his hat,     
Her other tender hand his fair cheek feels:     
  His tenderer cheek receives her soft hand’s print,     
  As apt as new-fall’n snow takes any dint.  

heaveth up: Throws off.
tenderer cheek: Tenderer than her hand.
As apt: As easily; as readily.
dint: Impression.
 
O! what a war of looks was then between them;     355
Her eyes petitioners to his eyes suing;     
His eyes saw her eyes as they had not seen them;     
Her eyes woo’d still, his eyes disdain’d the wooing:     
  And all this dumb play had his acts made plain     
  With tears, which, chorus-like, her eyes did rain.     360

Her . . . suing: Her eyes were petitioners in a courtroom, suing for the right to love him.
His eyes . . . them: His saw her eyes unfeelingly, as if he had not seen them at all.
Her eyes woo'd . . . wooing: Her eyes wooed him still, but his eyes scorned the wooing.
All all . . . rain: And this silent playacting made clear his disdain for her, as evidenced by the tears she cried like the words cried by a chorus in a tragic drama.
 
Full gently now she takes him by the hand,     
A lily prison’d in a gaol of snow,     
Or ivory in an alabaster band;     
So white a friend engirts so white a foe:     
  This beauteous combat, wilful and unwilling,     365
  Show’d like two silver doves that sit a-billing.    

A lily . . . snow: A lily (Adonis's hand) imprisoned in a jail (Venus's hand) of snow.
alabaster: White, stonelike substance; white gypsum.
band: shackle; circular enclosure.
engirts: Encloses.
a-billing: Touching beaks (bills).
 
Once more the engine of her thoughts began:     
‘O fairest mover on this mortal round,     
Would thou wert as I am, and I a man,     
My heart all whole as thine, thy heart my wound;     370
  For one sweet look thy help I would assure thee,     
  Though nothing but my body’s bane would cure thee.’  

'O fairest . . . wound: O fairest inspiration on this mortal earth, I wish that you could be me and I could be you. If I were you, my heart would be robust and healthy. If you were me, your heart would be wounded.
For one . . . thee: If you, portraying me, gave me one sweet look that conveyed your suffering, I would hurry to your side to ease your pains. I would relieve your suffering even if I had to die to do it.
 
‘Give me my hand,’ saith he, ‘why dost thou feel it?’     
‘Give me my heart,’ saith she, ‘and thou shalt have it;     
O! give it me, lest thy hard heart do steel it,     375
And being steel’d, soft sighs can never grave it:     
  Then love’s deep groans I never shall regard,     
  Because Adonis’ heart hath made mine hard.’   

'Give me . . . grave it: "Let go of my hand," Adonis says. "Why do you want to feel it?" Venus replies, "Give me my heart." She is saying that Adonis's extraordinary good looks caused her to invest all her love in him. But now that he refuses to return her love, she wants him to give back her loving heart. If he does so, she will release his hand. But if he keeps her heart, his cold and scornful demeanor toward her will turn her heart to steel.
   
‘For shame,’ he cries, ‘let go, and let me go;     
My day’s delight is past, my horse is gone,     380
And ’tis your fault I am bereft him so:     
I pray you hence, and leave me here alone:     
  For all my mind, my thought, my busy care,     
  Is how to get my palfrey from the mare.’    

delight: Hunting.
bereft him: Deprived of him.
hence: Go away.
For all . . . mare: For I want to focus all of my attention on how to get back my palfrey (saddle horse for everyday use) from the mare.
 
Thus she replies: ‘Thy palfrey, as he should,     385
Welcomes the warm approach of sweet desire:     
Affection is a coal that must be cool’d;     
Else, suffer’d, it will set the heart on fire:     
  The sea hath bounds, but deep desire hath none;     
  Therefore no marvel though thy horse be gone.     390

'Thy palfrey . . . fire: Your horse welcomes the warmth of sweet desire, as he should. But such desire must be satisfied. Otherwise, it will set the heart on fire.
The sea . . . be gone: The sea has boundaries, but deep desire does not. Therefore it's no wonder that your horse is gone.
 
‘How like a jade he stood, tied to the tree,     
Servilely master’d with a leathern rein!     
But when he saw his love, his youth’s fair fee,     
He held such petty bondage in disdain;     
  Throwing the base thong from his bending crest,     395
  Enfranchising his mouth, his back, his breast.    

'How like . . . rein: When he was tied to the tree, he looked like a tired old horse that served his master by responding to tugs on the leather rein.
youth's fair fee: The beautiful reward he was to receive for being young and vigorous.
He held . . . disdain: He regarded with contempt his role as a petty servant, throwing off the lowly rein from his neck and freeing his mouth, back, and breast from the rest of the harness.
 
‘Who sees his true-love in her naked bed,     
Teaching the sheets a whiter hue than white,     
But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed,     
His other agents aim at like delight?     400
  Who is so faint, that dare not be so bold     
  To touch the fire, the weather being cold?    

'Who sees . . . delight: After a man sees his true love naked in bed—the whiteness of her complexion even whiter than the sheets—he wants to let the rest of his body feast on what his eyes did.
Who . . . cold: Who is so faint of heart that he will not dare to warm himself with the fire of love?
 
‘Let me excuse thy courser, gentle boy;     
And learn of him, I heartily beseech thee,     
To take advantage on presented joy;     405
Though I were dumb, yet his proceedings teach thee.     
  O learn to love; the lesson is but plain,     
  And once made perfect, never lost again.’    

'Let me . . . thee: The behavior of your horse is excusable, gentle boy. In fact, I urge you to learn from him that one should take advantage of joy when it presents itself.
Though . . . thee: Though I did not satisfactorily explain the lessons of love to you, the actions of the horse explain them clearly.
And once . . . . again: And once you master those lessons, you will never forget them.
 
‘I know not love,’ quoth he, ‘nor will not know it,     
Unless it be a boar, and then I chase it;     410
’Tis much to borrow, and I will not owe it;     
My love to love is love but to disgrace it;     
  For I have heard it is a life in death,     
  That laughs and weeps, and all but with a breath.     
 
'Tis . . . disgrace it: Learning about love from someone is borrowed knowledge. But I don't want this borrowed knowledge, because I will then have to pay it back. My only love for love is that I love to disgrace it.
For  I  . . . breath: For I have heard that love is nothing but life in death. It laughs and weeps and then is finished, all in the time it takes to draw a breath.

‘Who wears a garment shapeless and unfinish’d?     415
Who plucks the bud before one leaf put forth?     
If springing things be any jot diminish’d,     
They wither in their prime, prove nothing worth:     
  The colt that’s back’d and burden’d being young     
  Loseth his pride and never waxeth strong.     420

'Who plucks . . . worth: Who plucks a bud before it blooms? If things in the spring of life be tampered with, they will wither in their youth and be worthless.
The colt . . . strong: The colt that is broken in and burdened with a rider loses his pride and never grows strong.
 
‘You hurt my hand with wringing; let us part,     
And leave this idle theme, this bootless chat:     
Remove your siege from my unyielding heart;     
To love’s alarms it will not ope the gate:     
  Dismiss your vows, your feigned tears, your flattery;     425
  For where a heart is hard, they make no battery.’    

And leave . . . chat: And quit this idle, useless conversation.
Remove . . . gate: Call off your warlike siege against my unyielding heart. It will not open its gate to your bugle calls.
Dismiss . . . battery: End your vows, pretended tears, and flattery. For my heart is heart, and your battering rams cannot break through it.
 
‘What! canst thou talk?’ quoth she, ‘hast thou a tongue?     
O! would thou hadst not, or I had no hearing;     
Thy mermaid’s voice hath done me double wrong; 
I had my load before, now press’d with bearing:     430
  Melodious discord, heavenly tune, harsh-sounding,     
  Ear’s deep-sweet music, and heart’s deep-sore wounding.     
 
'What! . . . hearing: What! So you can talk after all. You have a tongue. Oh, I wish you did not, or that I could not hear.
mermaid's voice: Apparently an allusion to the sirens in Homer's Odyssey. Depicted as mermaids, these creatures sat along shorelines and sang a beautiful song that lured sailors ashore from passing ships. Once on shore, the sailors forgot everything else—even to eat—as they listened to the song. Eventually, they died. Adonis has lured (unintentionally) Venus with his good looks, but she receives nothing but insults and rejection in return.
I had . . . wounding: You were a great burden before, but now I am hard-pressed to bear it. Your voice is melodious discord—a heavenly tune that sounds harsh. It is deep-sweet music to my ears, but it wounds me deeply.

‘Had I no eyes, but ears, my ears would love     
That inward beauty and invisible;     
Or were I deaf, thy outward parts would move     435
Each part in me that were but sensible:     
  Though neither eyes nor ears, to hear nor see,     
  Yet should I be in love by touching thee.    

If she were blind, Venus says, her ears would love Adonis's inward, invisible beauty—and presumably the sounds he makes with his voice, his heart, his movements. If she were deaf, she would love his outward parts with each sense she has left. She sums up by saying that, deprived of sight and hearing, she would love him by touching him.
 
‘Say, that the sense of feeling were bereft me,     
And that I could not see, nor hear, nor touch,     440
And nothing but the very smell were left me,     
Yet would my love to thee be still as much;     
  For from the still’tory of thy face excelling     
  Comes breath perfum’d that breedeth love by smelling.    

bereft me: Taken from me.
still'tory: Stillatory, a distillery.
face excelling: Beautiful face.
Comes . . . smelling: Comes perfumed breath whose smell makes me love you.
 
‘But O! what banquet wert thou to the taste,     445
Being nurse and feeder of the other four;     
Would they not wish the feast might ever last,     
And bid Suspicion double-lock the door,     
  Lest Jealousy, that sour unwelcome guest,     
  Should, by his stealing in, disturb the feast?’     450

'But . . . four: But, oh, what a banquet you are to taste, which is the nurse and feeder of the other four senses. Would not these senses wish that the feast would last forever? Would they not ask our doorkeeper, Suspicion—who keeps away intruders—to double-lock the door?
Lest . . . feast: After all, Jealousy, an unwelcome guest, might try to sneak in and disturb the feast.

Once more the ruby-colour’d portal open’d,     
Which to his speech did honey passage yield;     
Like a red morn, that ever yet betoken’d     
Wrack to the seaman, tempest to the field,     
  Sorrow to shepherds, woe unto the birds,     455
  Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.

Once . . . yield: Once more his ruby lips opened, revealing the honey-coated passage through which his speech passed.
Like . . . herds: But his red lips and mouth were like a red morning sun, a sign that there would be shipwrecks, storms, ruin for shepherds and birds, and high winds to harry herdsmen and their livestock.
    

This ill presage advisedly she marketh:     
Even as the wind is hush’d before it raineth,     
Or as the wolf doth grin before he barketh,     
Or as the berry breaks before it staineth,     460
  Or like the deadly bullet of a gun,     
  His meaning struck her ere his words begun.    

presage: Omen; sign.
ere: Before.
 
And at his look she flatly falleth down,     
For looks kill love and love by looks reviveth;     
A smile recures the wounding of a frown;     465
But blessed bankrupt, that by love so thriveth!     
  The silly boy, believing she is dead,     
  Claps her pale cheek, till clapping makes it red;    

falleth down: Faints.
recures: Cures; heals.
Claps: Slaps.
bankrupt: Failure; loser.
 
And all-amaz’d brake off his late intent,     
For sharply he did think to reprehend her,     470
Which cunning love did wittily prevent:     
Fair fall the wit that can so well defend her!     
  For on the grass she lies as she were slain,     
  Till his breath breatheth life in her again.    

And . . . prevent: And full of amazement he decides not to carry out his intention, which was to scold her sharply.
which . . . prevent: which the sly goddess cleverly prevented.
Fair . . . her: May good luck befall her for being so crafty.
as: As if.
 
He wrings her nose, he strikes her on the cheeks,     475
He bends her fingers, holds her pulses hard,     
He chafes her lips; a thousand ways he seeks     
To mend the hurt that his unkindness marr’d:            
  He kisses her; and she, by her good will,     
  Will never rise, so he will kiss her still.     480

wrings: Squeezes.
chafes: Rubs.
marr'd: Marred, meaning caused.
by her good will: because of her intention to take advantage.
 
The night of sorrow now is turn’d to day:     
Her two blue windows faintly she up-heaveth,     
Like the fair sun, when in his fresh array     
He cheers the morn and all the world relieveth:     
  And as the bright sun glorifies the sky,     485
  So is her face illumin’d with her eye;    

The night . . . relieveth: Her sorrow turns to joy as she opens her eyes. Her gaze is like the brightly arrayed sun that cheers the morning and relieves the world of darkness.
illumin'd: Illumined; brightened.

Whose beams upon his hairless face are fix’d,       
As if from thence they borrow’d all their shine.     
Were never four such lamps together mix’d,     
Had not his clouded with his brows’ repine;     490
  But hers, which through the crystal tears gave light,     
  Shone like the moon in water seen by night.    

Whose . . . shine: Her eyes beam upon his hairless face, as if they borrowed all their shine from his eyes.
Were never . . . repine: Never before was the light of four such eyes mixed—his eyes clouding up as his brows repine, hers shining like the moon reflected from water when she gazes through her crystal tears.

‘O! where am I?’ quoth she, ‘in earth or heaven,     
Or in the ocean drench’d, or in the fire?     
What hour is this? or morn or weary even?     495
Do I delight to die, or life desire?     
  But now I liv’d, and life was death’s annoy;     
  But now I died, and death was lively joy.    

earth, heaven, ocean, fire: Apparently an allusion to the four elements—earth, air (referred to as heaven), water (referred to as the ocean), and fire—which, in Shakespeare's time and before, were believed to be the elements that made up all things.
or in the fire: Perhaps an allusion to the underworld, Hades.
weary even: Drowsy evening.
But now . . . joy: When I lived, life was death's annoyance. Now that I'm dead, death is lively joy.
 
‘O! thou didst kill me; kill me once again:     
Thy eyes’ shrewd tutor, that hard heart of thine,     500
Hath taught them scornful tricks and such disdain     
That they have murder’d this poor heart of mine;
  And these mine eyes, true leaders to their queen,     
  But for thy piteous lips no more had seen.    

Thy eyes' . . . seen: Your eyes' shrewd teacher, your hard heart, taught them to perform scornful tricks and show contempt. What they did was murder this poor heart of mine. Then my own eyes, true leaders of their queen, could see nothing but your piteous lips.
 
‘Long may they kiss each other for this cure!     505
O! never let their crimson liveries wear;     
And as they last, their verdure still endure,     
To drive infection from the dangerous year:     
  That the star-gazers, having writ on death,     
  May say, the plague is banish’d by thy breath.     510

they: Our lips.
crimson liveries: Crimson colors (literally, crimson uniforms).
verdure: Freshness; youthful appearance.
to drive . . . year: Bubonic plague struck in London in 1593, the year that Shakespeare was completing Venus and Adonis.
 
‘Pure lips, sweet seals in my soft lips imprinted,     
What bargains may I make, still to be sealing?     
To sell myself I can be well contented,     
So thou wilt buy and pay and use good dealing;     
  Which purchase if thou make, for fear of slips     515
  Set thy seal-manual on my wax-red lips.    

'Pure . . . sealing: Your pure lips imprinted their impression on my lips with your sweet seals (like the seal that makes an impression on wax on a document or letter).
What bargains . . . dealing: What bargains may I make for another kiss?
To sell . . . dealing: I am content to sell myself. You can buy and pay for me in a fair transaction. If you purchase me, close the deal with another seal on my wax-red lips to assure that the provisions of the contract contain no errors (slips).
 
‘A thousand kisses buys my heart from me;     
And pay them at thy leisure, one by one.     
What is ten hundred touches unto thee?     
Are they not quickly told and quickly gone?     520
  Say, for non-payment that the debt should double,     
  Is twenty hundred kisses such a trouble?’    

told: Counted; totaled.
 
‘Fair queen,’ quoth he, ‘if any love you owe me,     
Measure my strangeness with my unripe years:     
Before I know myself, seek not to know me;     525            
No fisher but the ungrown fry forbears:     
  The mellow plum doth fall, the green sticks fast,     
  Or being early pluck’d is sour to taste. 

'Fair . . . years: Fair queen, if you own me any love, judge my reticence by my youth.
No . . . forebears: No fisherman tries to catch a tiny fish.
The mellow . . . taste: When the plum falls or is picked too early, it is still green and sour to the taste.
 
‘Look! the world’s comforter, with weary gait,     
His day’s hot task hath ended in the west;     530
The owl, night’s herald, shrieks, ’tis very late;     
The sheep are gone to fold, birds to their nest,     
  And coal-black clouds that shadow heaven’s light     
  Do summon us to part and bid good night.  

'Look . . . west: Look! the world's comforter, the sun, with weary movements ends his day's hot task in the west.
fold: Enclosure for sheep.
that shadow heaven's light: That block the light from the moon and stars. 
 
‘Now let me say good night, and so say you;     535
If you will say so, you shall have a kiss.’     
‘Good night,’ quoth she; and ere he says adieu,     
The honey fee of parting tender’d is:     
  Her arms do lend his neck a sweet embrace;     
  Incorporate then they seem, face grows to face.     540

ere he says adieu: Before he says good-bye.
The honey . . . is: The sweet payment of parting is offered.
Incorporate: Adjective (pronounced in KOR per rit) meaning united, merged.
face grows to face: Face presses against face—that is, they kiss.
 
Till, breathless, he disjoin’d, and backward drew     
The heavenly moisture, that sweet coral mouth,     
Whose precious taste her thirsty lips well knew,     
Whereon they surfeit, yet complain on drouth:     
  He with her plenty press’d, she faint with dearth,     545
  Their lips together glu’d, fall to the earth.    

Till . . . drouth: Then, breathless, he broke off the kiss and drew backward while still giving off heavenly moisture from his pinkish-red mouth. Venus well knew the taste of this misty exhalation. They gorge on each other's lips, but complain of drought (that they haven't had enough).
He . . . earth: While he kissed her again, taking advantage of her plentiful assets, she was weak with wanting more. Their lips together glued, they fall to earth.
 
Now quick desire hath caught the yielding prey,     
And glutton-like she feeds, yet never filleth;     
Her lips are conquerors, his lips obey,     7
Paying what ransom the insulter willeth;     550
  Whose vulture thought doth pitch the price so high,     
  That she will draw his lips’ rich treasure dry.    

Now . . . filleth: Desire, quick to rise, has consumed the yielding Adonis. She feeds on him like a glutton, but never satisfies her longing.
Her lips . . . willeth: Her lips are conquerors, and his lips yield to them. He gives her as many kisses as she wants.
Whose . . . dry: Like a vulture, she will feed on his lips until they run dry.
 
And having felt the sweetness of the spoil,     
With blindfold fury she begins to forage;     
Her face doth reek and smoke, her blood doth boil,     555
And careless lust stirs up a desperate courage;     
  Planting oblivion, beating reason back,     
  Forgetting shame’s pure blush and honour’s wrack.     

spoil: Seized object; treasure taken in war.
forage: Grope.
reek: Fume.
smoke: Release vapor.
oblivion: Disregard; heedlessness.
honour's wrack: Ruination or destruction of honor.
 
Hot, faint, and weary, with her hard embracing,     
Like a wild bird being tam’d with too much handling,     560
Or as the fleet-foot roe that ’s tir’d with chasing,     
Or like the froward infant still’d with dandling,     
  He now obeys, and now no more resisteth,     
  While she takes all she can, not all she listeth.  

fleet-foot roe: Swift deer.
with chasing: With being chased. 
froward: Contrary; hard to handle
still'd: Calmed.
Dandling: Gently moving a baby up and down on a knee.
listeth: Desires.
 
What wax so frozen but dissolves with tempering,     565
And yields at last to every light impression?     
Things out of hope are compass’d oft with venturing,     
Chiefly in love, whose leave exceeds commission:     
  Affection faints not like a pale-fac’d coward,     
  But then woos best when most his choice is froward. 

What . . . impression: Frozen wax melts when heated and will receive every light impression.
Things . . . commission: One can accomplish a seemingly hopeless task with bold action, especially in matters of love, which responds to daring and drastic measures.
Affection . . . froward: Affection does not faint like a pale-faced coward. It succeeds best in the face of resistance.

When he did frown, O! had she then gave over,     
Such nectar from his lips she had not suck’d.     
Foul words and frowns must not repel a lover;     
What though the rose have prickles, yet ’tis pluck’d:     
  Were beauty under twenty locks kept fast,     575
  Yet love breaks through and picks them all at last.    

When . . . suck'd: When he frowned—O! if she had given up at that moment, she would not have tasted any more of the nectar from his lips. In Greek mythology, nectar was the drink of the gods.
What though: Even though.
prickles: Thorns.

 
For pity now she can no more detain him;     
The poor fool prays her that he may depart:     
She is resolv’d no longer to restrain him,     
Bids him farewell, and look well to her heart,     580
  The which, by Cupid’s bow she doth protest,     
  He carries thence incaged in his breast.    

For pity . . . detain him: Out of pity, she decides not to detain him any longer.
prays: Begs.
Bids . . . breast: Says good-bye and then turns her attention to her heart, which Cupid wounded with love for Adonis. Now he carries her heart caged in his breast.
 
‘Sweet boy,’ she says, ‘this night I’ll waste in sorrow,     
For my sick heart commands mine eyes to watch.     
Tell me, Love’s master, shall we meet to-morrow?     585
Say, shall we? shall we? wilt thou make the match?’     
  He tells her, no; to-morrow he intends     
  To hunt the boar with certain of his friends.     

waste: Languish; wither.
watch: Stay awake.
wilt . . . match: Will you meet with me?
 
‘The boar!’ quoth she; whereat a sudden pale,     
Like lawn being spread upon the blushing rose,     590
Usurps her cheeks, she trembles at his tale,     
And on his neck her yoking arms she throws:     
  She sinketh down, still hanging by his neck,     
  He on her belly falls, she on her back.    

pale: Paleness.
lawn: Light linen or cotton fabric.
Usurps: Spreads over; colors.
yoking: Imprisoning.

Now is she in the very lists of love,     595
Her champion mounted for the hot encounter:     
All is imaginary she doth prove,     
He will not manage her, although he mount her;     
  That worse than Tantalus’ is her annoy,                                   
  To clip Elysium and to lack her joy.     600

lists: A word with a double meaning: (1) enclosed area where jousting tournaments take place; (2) passions; desires.
her champion . . . encounter: Phrase with a double meaning: (1) her knight, who mounts a horse to joust; (2) her lover, who is in position for a sexual encounter.
All  . . . prove: But she realizes that she is only imagining what will happen; he will refuse to unite with her again even though he is "mounted" on her.
Tantalus: In Greek mythology, King of Sipylus, Lydia. He was a favorite of the gods until he attempted to deceive them. For his offense, they condemned him to eternal punishment in Hades. There, Tantalus thirsted for water that always receded when he tried to drink it, and he desired fruit on a tree branch that was always out of reach.
Elysium: In classical mythology, the afterlife abode of the righteous and heroic.
That worse . . . joy: Her frustration is worse than that of Tantalus, because her hoped-for heavenly encounter—and the joy resulting from it—will not take place.

 
Even as poor birds, deceiv’d with painted grapes,     
Do surfeit by the eye and pine the maw,     
Even so she languisheth in her mishaps,     
As those poor birds that helpless berries saw.     
  The warm effects which she in him finds missing,     605
  She seeks to kindle with continual kissing.     

Do . . . maw: Do eat their fill with the eye but starve in the stomach.
languisheth: Weakens; becomes downcast.
mishaps: Bad luck.
As . . . saw: As those poor, helpless birds that saw berries.
 
But all in vain; good queen, it will not be:     
She hath assay’d as much as may be prov’d;     
Her pleading hath deserv’d a greater fee;     
She’s Love, she loves, and yet she is not lov’d.     610
  ‘Fie, fie!’ he says, ‘you crush me; let me go;     
  You have no reason to withhold me so.’    

But . . . prov'd: But her kissing is all in vain. He will not respond to the queen. She has done as much as she can.
Her pleading . . . lov'd: Her pleading deserved a greater reward. She is the goddess of love. She loves but she is not loved.
withhold: Detain; keep.

‘Thou hadst been gone,’ quoth she, ‘sweet boy, ere this,     
But that thou told’st me thou wouldst hunt the boar.     
O! be advis’d; thou know’st not what it is     615
With javelin’s point a churlish swine to gore,     
  Whose tushes never sheath’d he whetteth still,     
  Like to a mortal butcher, bent to kill.    

'Thou . . . boar: You were to be gone by this time, sweet boy. But you told me you were going to hunt the boar.
O! . . . . kill: Oh, beware. You don't know how hard it is to use a javelin against a violent boar. Like a deadly butcher bent on killing, he continually sharpens his tusks, which are always exposed.
 
‘On his bow-back he hath a battle set     
Of bristly pikes, that ever threat his foes;     620
His eyes like glow-worms shine when he doth fret;     
His snout digs sepulchres where’er he goes;     
  Being mov’d, he strikes whate’er is in his way,     
  And whom he strikes his crooked tushes slay.   

'On his . . . fret: On his curving back he has sharp bristles that ever threaten his foes. His eyes shine like fireflies when he's vexed.
His snout . . . goes: His snout digs graves (holes) wherever he goes.
Being . . . slay: When agitated, he strikes whatever is in his way. Whomever he strikes, his crooked tusks kill.

 
‘His brawny sides, with hairy bristles arm’d,     625
Are better proof than thy spear’s point can enter;     
His short thick neck cannot be easily harm’d;          
Being ireful, on the lion he will venture:     
  The thorny brambles and embracing bushes,     
  As fearful of him part, through whom he rushes.     630

better proof: Stronger armor.
Being . . . venture: When angry, he will take on a lion.
The thorny . . . rushes: When he runs through thorny brambles and thick bushes, they part in fear of him.
 
‘Alas! he nought esteems that face of thine,     
To which Love’s eyes pay tributary gazes;     
Nor thy soft hands, sweet lips, and crystal eyne,     
Whose full perfection all the world amazes;     
  But having thee at vantage, wondrous dread!     635
  Would root these beauties as he roots the mead. 

'Alas! . . . gazes: Unfortunately, he thinks nothing of your face, to which my eyes pay tribute in gazes.
eyne: Eyes.
But . . . mead: But greatly dread him if he has you at an advantage. He would root out your eyes in the same way that he roots up the field.
   
 
‘O! let him keep his loathsome cabin still;     
Beauty hath nought to do with such foul fiends:     
Come not within his danger by thy will;     
They that thrive well take counsel of their friends.     640
  When thou didst name the boar, not to dissemble,     
  I fear’d thy fortune, and my joints did tremble.    

keep . . . cabin: Stay in his loathsome shelter (or lair).
nought: Nothing.
Come . . . will: Do not willingly go near him.
When . . . tremble: When you spoke of hunting the boar, I'm not pretending when I say that I feared for your life. My joints trembled.
 
‘Didst thou not mark my face? was it not white?     
Saw’st thou not signs of fear lurk in mine eye?     
Grew I not faint? And fell I not downright?     645
Within my bosom, whereon thou dost lie,     
  My boding heart pants, beats, and takes no rest,     
  But, like an earthquake, shakes thee on my breast.  

mark: Notice.
Eye: The singular is used to rhyme with lie in line 646.
downright: Downright is used (in place of down) to rhyme with white in line 643.
boding: Foreseeing; foresighted; farsighted.
 
‘For where Love reigns, disturbing Jealousy     
Doth call himself Affection’s sentinel;     650
Gives false alarms, suggesteth mutiny,     
And in a peaceful hour doth cry “Kill, kill!”     
  Distempering gentle Love in his desire,     
  As air and water do abate the fire.    

Jealousy: Anxiety; dread; apprehension.
sentinel: Watchman; sentry.
Gives . . . fire: He gives false alarms, warns of rebellion, and even cries, "Kill, kill" in a peaceful hour. In doing so, he extinguishes the desire of gentle love as air and water put out a fire.
 
‘This sour informer, this bate-breeding spy,     655
This canker that eats up Love’s tender spring,     
This carry-tale, dissentious Jealousy,     
That sometime true news, sometime false doth bring,     
  Knocks at my heart, and whispers in mine ear     
  That if I love thee, I thy death should fear:     660

bate: Discord; strife
canker: Cankerworm, which feeds on buds. Here, it feeds on budding love.
dissentious: Causing turmoil.

‘And more than so, presenteth to mine eye     
The picture of an angry-chafing boar,     
Under whose sharp fangs on his back doth lie     
An image like thyself, all stain’d with gore;     
  Whose blood upon the fresh flowers being shed     665
  Doth make them droop with grief and hang the head.   

'And more than so: And what's more.
angry-chafing boar: Boar bristling with anger.
Fangs: Sharp teeth. 
 
‘What should I do, seeing thee so indeed,     
That tremble at the imagination?     
The thought of it doth make my faint heart bleed,     
And fear doth teach it divination:     670
  I prophesy thy death, my living sorrow,     
  If thou encounter with the boar to-morrow.    

'What . . . imagination: I wonder what I should do as I tremble at the picture of you lying there.
And fear . . . divination: Fear of what could happen to you makes me speculate about what's in store for you.
 
‘But if thou needs wilt hunt, be rul’d by me;     
Uncouple at the timorous flying hare,     
Or at the fox which lives by subtilty,     675
Or at the roe which no encounter dare:                             
  Pursue these fearful creatures o’er the downs,     
  And on thy well-breath’d horse keep with thy hounds.    

'But . . . me: But if you are determined to hunt, take my advice.
Uncouple: Unleash your dogs.
timorous: Fearful; nervous.
Flying: Running with great speed.
Subtilty: Subtlety. A fox is sly and deceitful.
Or at . . . dare: Or at the deer, which avoids encounters with hunters.
downs: Open land with small hills and few trees where livestock often graze.
 
‘And when thou hast on foot the purblind hare,     
Mark the poor wretch, to overshoot his troubles     680
How he outruns the winds, and with what care     
He cranks and crosses with a thousand doubles:     
  The many musits through the which he goes     
  Are like a labyrinth to amaze his foes.    

'And when . . . doubles: And when you come upon the weak-sighted hare, notice that the poor wretch tries to escape by outrunning the winds. Notice, too, how he runs this way and that, turns sharply, and doubles back.
The many . . . foes: The many openings (musits) in bushes and fences he goes through are like labyrinth to amaze his pursuers.
 
‘Sometime he runs among a flock of sheep,     685
To make the cunning hounds mistake their smell,     
And sometime where earth-delving conies keep,     
To stop the loud pursuers in their yell,     
  And sometime sorteth with a herd of deer;     
  Danger deviseth shifts; wit waits on fear:     690

'Sometime: Sometimes.
mistake their smell: Mistake their smell for his.
earth-delving conies keep: Rabbits, which live in a hole in the ground.
sorteth: Mingles.
Danger . . . fear: When in danger, the boar devises evasive maneuvers; fear makes him smart.
 
‘For there his smell with others being mingled,     
The hot scent-snuffing hounds are driven to doubt,     
Ceasing their clamorous cry till they have singled     
With much ado the cold fault cleanly out;     
  Then do they spend their mouths: Echo replies,     695   
  As if another chase were in the skies.    

snuffing: Sniffing.
till they . . . out: Till they have singled out with much trouble the false scent (or cold trail).
Spend their mouths: Resume their barking and crying.
Echo replies: The noise of the dogs echoes. Echo may be an allusion to the nymph Echo in Greek mythology. Hera, the queen of the gods, punished Echo for consorting with Zeus, the king of the gods and husband of Hera. Hera limited Echo's speaking ability so that the nymph could only repeat the last few sounds or spoken words that she heard.
 
‘By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,     
Stands on his hinder legs with listening ear,     
To hearken if his foes pursue him still:     
Anon their loud alarums he doth hear;     700
  And now his grief may be compared well     
  To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.    

Wat: A name for a hare (E. Cobham Brewer. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. New York: Henry Altemus Company, 1898).
hinder: Hind.
Anon: Soon.
Alarums: Cries and barks.
To one . . . -bell: Dying person who hears his own death knell.
 
‘Then shalt thou see the dew-bedabbled wretch     
Turn, and return, indenting with the way;     
Each envious briar his weary legs doth scratch,     705
Each shadow makes him stop, each murmur stay:     
  For misery is trodden on by many,     
  And being low never reliev’d by any.  

indenting: Veering left, then right, then left, etc.
envious: Spiteful; hateful.
trodden: Walked; trampled.
 
 
‘Lie quietly, and hear a little more;     
Nay, do not struggle, for thou shalt not rise:     710
To make thee hate the hunting of the boar,     
Unlike myself thou hear’st me moralize,     
  Applying this to that, and so to so;     
  For love can comment upon every woe. 

Unlike . . . woe: It is unlike me to preach to you about what is the right or wrong thing to do. But that is what I am going to do. So listen to what I say as I apply this principle to that, and so to so. Love can comment on every woe.  
 
‘Where did I leave?’ ‘No matter where,’ quoth he;     715
‘Leave me, and then the story aptly ends:     
The night is spent,’ ‘Why, what of that?’ quoth she.     
‘I am,’ quoth he, ‘expected of my friends;     
  And now ’tis dark, and going I shall fall.’     
  ‘In night,’ quoth she, ‘desire sees best of all.’     720

leave: Leave off.
The night is spent: It's getting very late.
expected of: Expected by.
going: Returning.
 

‘But if thou fall, O! then imagine this,     
The earth, in love with thee, thy footing trips,     
And all is but to rob thee of a kiss.     
Rich preys make true men thieves; so do thy lips     
  Make modest Dian cloudy and forlorn,     725                        
  Lest she should steal a kiss and die forsworn.    

true: Honest.
Rich . . . forsworn: Rich treasures make honest men thieves. Your lips make Dian cloudy and sad at the thought of stealing a kiss from you and dying for not keeping her promise to remain chaste.
Dian: In classical mythology, the goddess of the moon, of chastity, and of hunting. Her Roman name was Diana, sometimes shortened to Dian; her Greek name was Artemis.
 
‘Now of this dark night I perceive the reason:     
Cynthia for shame obscures her silver shine,     
Till forging Nature be condemn’d of treason,     
For stealing moulds from heaven that were divine;     730
  Wherein she fram’d thee in high heaven’s despite,     
  To shame the sun by day and her by night.    

'Now . . . divine: I know why this night is so dark. Cynthia (another name for Dian or Diana) hides her silver shine until Nature be condemned for treason for stealing divine molds from heaven.
Wherein . . . night: Nature used these molds to make you so that the brilliance of your beauty would shame the sun by day and the moon (Diana, or Cynthia) by night.
 
‘And therefore hath she brib’d the Destinies,     
To cross the curious workmanship of nature,     
To mingle beauty with infirmities,     735
And pure perfection with impure defeature;     
  Making it subject to the tyranny     
  Of mad mischances and much misery; 

Destinies: In classical mythology, three goddesses who oversaw the birth and life of human beings and determined their destinies.
To . . . defeature: To sabotage the intricate workmanship of nature by mingling beauty with infirmities and pure perfection with ugly disfigurement.
mischances: Accidents; bad luck; mishaps. 
 
‘As burning fevers, agues pale and faint,     
Life-poisoning pestilence and frenzies wood,     740
The marrow-eating sickness, whose attaint     
Disorder breeds by heating of the blood;     
  Surfeits, imposthumes, grief, and damn’d despair,     
  Swear nature’s death for framing thee so fair.    

agues: Bouts of fever with chills and sweating.
pestilence: Plague; life-threatening epidemic disease.
frenzies wood: Mad frenzies; episodes of insanity. Wood is an archaic word for mad or insane.
marrow-eating sickness: Syphilis, which can harm bones, bone marrow, and joints.
attaint: Effect; corruption.
Surfeits: Illnesses resulting from overeating.
imposthumes: Pus-filled swellings.
Swear . . . fair: All of these maladies of "imperfect" human beings want to kill nature for making Adonis perfectly beautiful and, presumably, free of afflictions.
 
‘And not the least of all these maladies     745
But in one minute’s fight brings beauty under:     
Both favour, savour, hue, and qualities,     
Whereat the impartial gazer late did wonder,     
  Are on the sudden wasted, thaw’d and done,     
  As mountain-snow melts with the mid-day sun.     750

'And . . . under: Not the least of these maladies can in a short time destroy you—your looks, your smell, your color, and all of your other qualities.
Whereat . . . sun: At the sight of you, an observer would wonder why, all of a sudden, you are wasted away—melted down, so to speak, the way mountain snow melts in the midday sun.
 
‘Therefore, despite of fruitless chastity,     
Love-lacking vestals and self-loving nuns,   
That on the earth would breed a scarcity     
And barren dearth of daughters and of sons,     
  Be prodigal: the lamp that burns by night     755
  Dries up his oil to lend the world his light.   

In this stanza, Venus urges Adonis to be prodigal with his sexuality. Those who take a vow of chastity do not produce sons and daughters and, therefore, do nothing to perpetuate the human race, Venus says. They are like lamps without oil to give light.
vestal: In ancient Rome, any of the six priestesses who tended the sacred fire of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. These priestesses are commonly referred to today as vestal virgins, because each was required to be chaste during her service, a minimum of thirty years. The vestal virgins' task was to keep the fire burning at all times to promote the well-being of the state and victory on the battlefield. A vestal who allowed the fire to go out was scourged; a vestal who violated her vow of chastity was buried alive.
 
‘What is thy body but a swallowing grave,     
Seeming to bury that posterity     
Which by the rights of time thou needs must have,     
If thou destroy them not in dark obscurity?     760
  If so, the world will hold thee in disdain,     
  Sith in thy pride so fair a hope is slain.    

'What . . . obscurity: What is your body but a grave—a dark obscurity—that swallows the children that you should produce?
If so . . . slain: If that is what your body is, the world will hold you in contempt for allowing your pride to kill your future children.
Sith: Since.
 
‘So in thyself thyself art made away;     
A mischief worse than civil home-bred strife,     
Or theirs whose desperate hands themselves do slay,     765
Or butcher-sire that reaves his son of life.     
  Foul-cankering rust the hidden treasure frets,     
  But gold that’s put to use more gold begets.’        

'So . . . of life: So, by choosing not to father children who would be an image of you in future generations, you are choosing to destroy yourself, an evil worse than the turmoil in a troubled marriage. You would be no better than those who commit suicide (line 765) or a father who kills his own son.
Foul- . . . begets: Corrupting rust eats away at hidden treasure. But invested gold begets more gold.

‘Nay then,’ quoth Adon, ‘you will fall again     
Into your idle over-handled theme;     770
The kiss I gave you is bestow’d in vain,     
And all in vain you strive against the stream;     
  For by this black-fac’d night, desire’s foul nurse,     
  Your treatise makes me like you worse and worse.    

'Nay . . . theme: "Well, then," Adonis says, "you are harping on the same old theme, sex.
The kiss . . . stream: The kiss I gave you wasn't enough to satisfy you, but you are striving in vain if you think you'll get more from me.
For . . . worse: For I swear by this dark night, which is desire's helper, your pleading makes me like you less and less.
 
‘If love have lent you twenty thousand tongues,     775
And every tongue more moving than your own,     
Bewitching like the wanton mermaid’s songs,     
Yet from mine ear the tempting tune is blown;     
  For know, my heart stands armed in mine ear,     
  And will not let a false sound enter there;     780

moving: Persuasive.
wanton: Lustful.
Yet . . . blown: The tune is blown away from my ear.
 
‘Lest the deceiving harmony should run     
Into the quiet closure of my breast;     
And then my little heart were quite undone,     
In his bedchamber to be barr’d of rest.     
  No, lady, no; my heart longs not to groan,     785
  But soundly sleeps, while now it sleeps alone.    

'Lest . . . rest: I don't want your deceitful song to enter my breast and prevent my heart from getting needed rest.
No . . . alone: No, lady, my heart does not desire to groan in a sexual encounter. Right now, it sleeps soundly—alone.
 
‘What have you urg’d that I cannot reprove?     
The path is smooth that leadeth on to danger;     
I hate not love, but your device in love,     
That lends embracements unto every stranger.     790
  You do it for increase: O strange excuse!     
  When reason is the bawd to lust’s abuse.    

reprove: Condemn; rebuke; disapprove of.
danger: Depravity.
I hate . . . stranger: I don't hate love, but I hate the way you use love as an excuse to embrace every stranger.
You do . . . abuse: You say your intention is to bear children. That's a weak excuse! You're turning reason into a pimp that procures opportunities for lust.
 
‘Call it not love, for Love to heaven is fled,     
Since sweating Lust on earth usurp’d his name;     
Under whose simple semblance he hath fed     795
Upon fresh beauty, blotting it with blame;     
  Which the hot tyrant stains and soon bereaves,     
  As caterpillars do the tender leaves.    

'Call . . . name: It is not love that you feel, for love fled to heaven after sweating lust seized his place on earth.
Under . . . leaves: Pretending to be love, lust has fed upon fresh beauty, staining it with sin and robbing it of its vitality as caterpillars do the tender leaves.
 
‘Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,     
But Lust’s effect is tempest after sun;     800
Love’s gentle spring doth always fresh remain,     
Lust’s winter comes ere summer half be done.     
  Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;     
  Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies.    

tempest: Storm (stormy passion).
ere: Before.
Loves surfeits not: Love doesn't overeat.
 
‘More I could tell, but more I dare not say;     805
The text is old, the orator too green.     
Therefore, in sadness, now I will away;     
My face is full of shame, my heart of teen:     
  Mine ears, that to your wanton talk attended,     
  Do burn themselves for having so offended.’     810

in sadness: In all seriousness; in truth.
teen: Archaic term for grief or misery.
attended: Listened.
having so offended: For having listened to your talk.
 
With this he breaketh from the sweet embrace     
Of those fair arms which bound him to her breast,     
And homeward through the dark laund runs apace;     
Leaves Love upon her back deeply distress’d.     
  Look, how a bright star shooteth from the sky,     815
  So glides he in the night from Venus’ eye;  

laund: grass-covered space; glade; meadow.
 
Which after him she darts, as one on shore     
Gazing upon a late-embarked friend,     
Till the wild waves will have him seen no more,     
Whose ridges with the meeting clouds contend:     820
  So did the merciless and pitchy night     
  Fold in the object that did feed her sight.    

darts: Darts her eyes.
ridges: Ridges of high-rising waves.
Fold in: Obscure.
 
Whereat amaz’d, as one that unaware     
Hath dropp’d a precious jewel in the flood,     
Or ’stonish’d as night-wanderers often are,     825
Their light blown out in some mistrustful wood;     
  Even so confounded in the dark she lay,     
  Having lost the fair discovery of her way.

amaz'd: Distressed; shocked   
'stonish'd: Astonished.
mistrustful: Unnerving.
Having . . . way: Having lost her bearings; having lost her way.

And now she beats her heart, whereat it groans,     
That all the neighbour caves, as seeming troubled,     830
Make verbal repetition of her moans;     
Passion on passion deeply is redoubled:     
  ‘Ay me!’ she cries, and twenty times, ‘Woe, woe!’     
  And twenty echoes twenty times cry so. 

And . . . moans: And now, as her heart beats faster and stronger, it groans. All the neighboring caves, as if troubled, echo the sound.
Passion . . . so: Lamentation builds upon lamentation, sorrow upon sorrow. Twenty times she says, "Woe, woe!" And twenty times the echoes return her words.
 
She marking them, begins a wailing note,     835
And sings extemporally a woeful ditty;     
How love makes young men thrall and old men dote;     
How love is wise in folly, foolish-witty:     
  Her heavy anthem still concludes in woe,     
  And still the choir of echoes answer so.     840

She . . . witty: Hearing the echoes, she cries out in sorrow and sings an improvised song of woe—how love enthralls young men and makes old men dote, how love is wise in its folly and foolish in its wisdom.
Her . . . so: Her sorrowful anthem ends in woe, and again the echoes sing her words.
 
Her song was tedious, and outwore the night,     
For lovers’ hours are long, though seeming short:     
If pleas’d themselves, others, they think, delight     
In such like circumstance, with such like sport:     
  Their copious stories, oftentimes begun,     845
  End without audience, and are never done.    

Her . . . short: Her song was tiresome, outlasting the night.
For lovers' . . . sport: To lovers, the long hours seem short. When they are enjoying themselves, they think others are sharing their enjoyment.
Their . . . done: Their endless stories, told over and over, end without an audience—and are never done.
 
For who hath she to spend the night withal,     
But idle sounds resembling parasites;     
Like shrill-tongu’d tapsters answering every call,     
Soothing the humour of fantastic wits?     850
  She says, ‘’Tis so:’ they answer all, ‘’Tis so;’     
  And would say after her, if she said ‘No.’    

For . . . wits: For whom does she have to spend the night with except idle sounds resembling those of flatterers who latch onto others for person gain? These flatterers are like shrill-speaking bartenders who fill every glass and adjust to the varying moods of eccentric wits.
She says . . . 'No.': If she says, ‘’Tis so,' the echoes say, ‘’Tis so.' And if she says ‘No,’ they say ‘No.’
 
Lo! here the gentle lark, weary of rest,     
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,     
And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast     855   
The sun ariseth in his majesty;     
  Who doth the world so gloriously behold,     
  That cedar-tops and hills seem burnish’d gold.    

cabinet: Next.
breast: Horizon; sky.
Who . . . behold: Who casts his gaze so gloriously on the world.
 
Venus salutes him with this fair good morrow:     
‘O thou clear god, and patron of all light,     860
From whom each lamp and shining star doth borrow     
The beauteous influence that makes him bright,     
  There lives a son that suck’d an earthly mother,     
  May lend thee light, as thou dost lend to other.’ 

fair good morning: Beautiful greeting.
clear: Shining.
son: Adonis.
suck'd . . . mother: Sucked his mother's milk; fed at his mother's breasts.
May . . . other': Who can give you light, as you give light to others.
 
This said, she hasteth to a myrtle grove,     865
Musing the morning is so much o’erworn,     
And yet she hears no tidings of her love;     
She hearkens for his hounds and for his horn:     
  Anon she hears them chant it lustily,     
  And all in haste she coasteth to the cry.     870

Musing . . . o'erworn: Thinking that the morning is almost gone.
hearkens: Listens.
Anon . . . cry: Soon she hears the racket they make and hurries toward the sound.
 
And as she runs, the bushes in the way     
Some catch her by the neck, some kiss her face,     
Some twine about her thigh to make her stay:     
She wildly breaketh from their strict embrace,     
  Like a milch doe, whose swelling dugs do ache,     875
  Hasting to feed her fawn hid in some brake.    

kiss: Strike; slap.
strict: Confining; restraining; strangling.
milch: Milk-giving.
dugs: Breasts; teats.
brake: thicket.
 
By this she hears the hounds are at a bay;     
Whereat she starts, like one that spies an adder     
Wreath’d up in fatal folds just in his way,     
The fear whereof doth make him shake and shudder;     880
  Even so the timorous yelping of the hounds     
  Appals her senses, and her spirit confounds.  

By this . . . shudder: By this time, she hears sounds indicating that the hounds have stopped and are holding back. This development startles her as much as it would startle someone who encounters a coiled adder (poisonous snake) in his path, the fear of which makes him shake and shudder.
Even so . . . confounds: The timid yelping of the hounds horrifies and confuses her.
 
For now she knows it is no gentle chase,     
But the blunt boar, rough bear, or lion proud,     
Because the cry remaineth in one place,     885
Where fearfully the dogs exclaim aloud:     
  Finding their enemy to be so curst,     
  They all strain courtesy who shall cope him first.   

For . . . aloud: And now she knows it is no gentle quarry. Instead, it is the savage boar, the rough bear, or the proud lion.
exclaim: Bark; cry.
curst: Formidable; fearsome; vicious.
They all . . . first: They all hold back, as if each hound is courteously waiting for another hound to confront the beast.
 
This dismal cry rings sadly in her ear,     
Through which it enters to surprise her heart;     890
Who, overcome by doubt and bloodless fear,     
With cold-pale weakness numbs each feeling part;     
  Like soldiers, when their captain once doth yield,     
  They basely fly and dare not stay the field.    

surprise: Intimidate.
Who . . . part: The heart, overcome with doubt and fear, numbs each feeling part of Venus's body. She becomes cold, pale, and weak—as if no blood is coursing through her veins.
Like soldiers . . . field: Like soldiers whose commander has surrendered, her senses flee. They refuse to remain and fight.
 
Thus stands she in a trembling ecstasy,     895
Till, cheering up her senses sore dismay’d,     
She tells them ’tis a causeless fantasy,     
And childish error, that they are afraid;     
  Bids them leave quaking, bids them fear no more:     
  And with that word she spied the hunted boar,     900

ecstasy: Daze.
Till . . . afraid: Till, cheering up her fearful senses, she tells them their dismay is baseless and childish; there is no reason to be afraid.
Bids . . . boar: Tells them to stop trembling and fear no more. And then she spots the boar.
 
Whose frothy mouth bepainted all with red,     
Like milk and blood being mingled both together,     
A second fear through all her sinews spread,     
Which madly hurries her she knows not whither:     
  This way she runs, and now she will no further,     905
  But back retires to rate the boar for murther.   

bepainted: Painted.
Like milk . . . together: The froth, resembling milk, mingles with blood.
sinews: Tendons; muscles.
whither: Where.
This way . . . murther: This way she runs, then stops and goes back to berate the boar for murder.
 
A thousand spleens bear her a thousand ways,     
She treads the path that she untreads again;     
Her more than haste is mated with delays,     
Like the proceedings of a drunken brain,     910
  Full of respects, yet nought at all respecting,     
  In hand with all things, nought at all effecting.    

spleens: Emotions.
mated: Interrupted.
respects: Details; ideas.
nought: None.
effecting: Carrying out; putting into action.
 
Here kennel’d in a brake she finds a hound,     
And asks the weary caitiff for his master,     
And there another licking of his wound,     915
’Gainst venom’d sores the only sovereign plaster;     
  And here she meets another sadly scowling,     
  To whom she speaks, and he replies with howling.

kennel'd: Sheltered; hidden.
brake: Thicket.
caitiff: Runaway.
licking . . . plaster: Licking his wound as the only good remedy to treat his dreadful sores.
 
When he hath ceas’d his ill-resounding noise,     
Another flap-mouth’d mourner, black and grim,     920
Against the welkin volleys out his voice;     
Another and another answer him,     
  Clapping their proud tails to the ground below,     
  Shaking their scratch’d ears, bleeding as they go.    

flap-mouth'd: Loose flesh (flaps) hanging from the jaws. The dogs are probably bloodhounds.
welkin: Sky.
 
Look, how the world’s poor people are amaz’d     925
At apparitions, signs, and prodigies,     
Whereon with fearful eyes they long have gaz’d,     
Infusing them with dreadful prophecies;     
  So she at these sad signs draws up her breath,     
  And, sighing it again, exclaims on Death.     930

Look . . . gaz'd: Observe how the people of the world are frightened by apparitions, omens, and other extraordinary events on which with anxious eyes they have long gazed.
exclaims: Speaks out.
 
‘Hard-favour’d tyrant, ugly, meagre, lean,     
Hateful divorce of love,’—thus chides she Death,—     
‘Grim-grinning ghost, earth’s worm, what dost thou mean     
To stifle beauty and to steal his breath,     
  Who when he liv’d, his breath and beauty set     935
  Gloss on the rose, smell to the violet?    

'Hard-favoured: Hard-featured; unsightly.
divorce of love: Separator of persons who love each other.
stifle: Kill; smother.

‘If he be dead, O no! it cannot be,     
Seeing his beauty, thou shouldst strike at it;     
O yes! it may; thou hast no eyes to see,     
But hatefully at random dost thou hit.     940
  Thy mark is feeble age, but thy false dart     
  Mistakes that aim and cleaves an infant’s heart. 

it cannot . . . at it: It cannot be that you, seeing his beauty, would strike at it.
O yes! it may: On the other hand, yes, it can be that you would do so.
Thy mark . . . heart: You normally strike down the elderly, but your false dart mistakes its target and splits an infant's heart.
 
 
‘Hadst thou but bid beware, then he had spoke,     
And, hearing him, thy power had lost his power.     
The Destinies will curse thee for this stroke;     945    
They bid thee crop a weed, thou pluck’st a flower.     
  Love’s golden arrow at him should have fled,     
  And not Death’s ebon dart, to strike him dead.    

'Hadst . . . power: If you had told Adonis to beware, he would have spoken. Upon hearing him, you would have lost your power over him.
The Destinies: The Fates.
Love's  . . . dead: The golden arrow of Cupid should have struck him, infusing him with gentle love, not Death's black dart to strike him dead.
 
‘Dost thou drink tears, that thou provok’st such weeping?     
What may a heavy groan advantage thee?     950
Why hast thou cast into eternal sleeping     
Those eyes that taught all other eyes to see?     
  Now Nature cares not for thy mortal vigour,     
  Since her best work is ruin’d with thy rigour.’    

'Dost . . . thee: Death, you cause so much weeping in the world. Do you kill people just because you like to drink the tears of their loved ones? And the groans that you cause—what advantage do you get from them?
Why . . . see: Why did you cast Adonis into eternal sleep? His eyes taught all other eyes to see.
Now Nature . . . rigour: Now be aware that Nature does not approve of your deadly powers, since you ruin her best work with your fatal rigor.
 
Here overcome, as one full of despair,     955
She vail’d her eyelids, who, like sluices, stopp’d     
The crystal tide that from her two cheeks fair     
In the sweet channel of her bosom dropp’d;     
  But through the flood-gates breaks the silver rain,     
  And with his strong course opens them again.     960

Here . . . dropp'd: Here, overcome with despair, she closed her eyelids. Like gates in water channels, they stopped the flow of tears from her eyes to her bosom.
But . . . again: But the silver tears break through the gates, and the strong flow opens her eyelids again.
 
O! how her eyes and tears did lend and borrow;     
Her eyes seen in the tears, tears in her eye;     
Both crystals, where they view’d each other’s sorrow,     
Sorrow that friendly sighs sought still to dry;     
  But like a stormy day, now wind, now rain,     965
  Sighs dry her cheeks, tears make them wet again.    

O! how . . . eye: Tears appeared in the eyes; images of the eyes appeared in the tears.
Both . . . sorrow: Both were crystals, in which the tears and the eyes viewed one another's sorrows.
 
Variable passions throng her constant woe,     
As striving who should best become her grief;     
All entertain’d, each passion labours so,     
That every present sorrow seemeth chief,     970
  But none is best; then join they all together,     
  Like many clouds consulting for foul weather.    

Variable . . . chief: Various symptoms accompany her constant woe, as if vying to see which one best represents her grief. All of them are considered, and each one presents itself in such a way that it seems to best describe her suffering.
then join . . . weather: Then they gather together like clouds preparing to cause stormy weather.

By this, far off she hears some huntsman holla;     
A nurse’s song ne’er pleas’d her babe so well:     
The dire imagination she did follow     975
This sound of hope doth labour to expel;     
  For now reviving joy bids her rejoice,     
  And flatters her it is Adonis’ voice.    

By this: By this time.
holla: Shouting hello; crying out.
The dire . . . expel: This sound of hope struggled to drive out the dreadful thoughts that troubled her.
And flatters her: And makes her think.

Whereat her tears began to turn their tide,     
Being prison’d in her eye, like pearls in glass;     980
Yet sometimes falls an orient drop beside,     
Which her cheek melts, as scorning it should pass,     
  To wash the foul face of the sluttish ground,     
  Who is but drunken when she seemeth drown’d.    

Whereat . . . glass: When she hears the shout, her tears begin to turn back, like an ebbing tide, and become imprisoned in her eye, like pearls in a glass.
Yet . . . drown'd: But sometimes a gleaming teardrop escapes, which her cheek dissolves to prevent it from dropping down to wash the foul face of the filthy ground. The ground is only drunk with Venus's tears, but she is drowning in them.
 
O hard-believing love! how strange it seems     985
Not to believe, and yet too credulous;     
Thy weal and woe are both of them extremes;     
Despair and hope make thee ridiculous:     
  The one doth flatter thee in thoughts unlikely,     
  In likely thoughts the other kills thee quickly.     990

Summary of the stanza: O, it is hard for a lover like me to believe that her beloved has suffered a tragic blow. Yet how strange it is that we are quick to believe that the beloved has come to no harm. Being hopeful and desperate at the same time is ridiculous. Hope makes you believe in unlikely outcomes. Despair makes you believe in likely outcomes—and kills hope quickly.

Now she unweaves the web that she hath wrought,     
Adonis lives, and Death is not to blame;     
It was not she that call’d him all to naught,     
Now she adds honours to his hateful name;     
  She clepes him king of graves, and grave for kings,     995
  Imperious supreme of all mortal things.   

Wrought: Made.
It was . . . naught: It was not like her to curse Death. She did so because she was so upset.
clepes: Calls; names.
Supreme: Overlord; ruler; authority.
 
‘No, no,’ quoth she, ‘sweet Death, I did but jest;     
Yet pardon me, I felt a kind of fear     
Whenas I met the boar, that bloody beast,     
Which knows no pity, but is still severe;    1000
  Then, gentle shadow,—truth I must confess,—     
  I rail’d on thee, fearing my love’s decease.    

Whenas: When.
still: Always.
shadow: Death.
I rail'd on thee: I scorned you.

‘’Tis not my fault: the boar provok’d my tongue;     
Be wreak’d on him, invisible commander;     
’Tis he, foul creature, that hath done thee wrong;    1005
I did but act, he’s author of my slander:     
  Grief hath two tongues: and never woman yet,     
  Could rule them both without ten women’s wit.’   

Be wreak'd: Take revenge.
I did but act: I acted without thinking and became the boar's tool.
he's author: He's the cause.
Grief . . . wit': Grief speaks with two tongues that mingle truth and falsehood. Never yet was there a woman who could control both without the wisdom of ten women.

Thus hoping that Adonis is alive,     
Her rash suspect she doth extenuate;    1010
And that his beauty may the better thrive,     
With Death she humbly doth insinuate;     
  Tells him of trophies, statues, tombs; and stories     
  His victories, his triumphs, and his glories.    

Her rash . . . extenuate: She makes excuses for her rash suspicion (for jumping to conclusions).
And that . . . insinuate: And, so that she does not jeopardize the life of Adonis, she humbly flatters Death.
stories: Speaks of.
 
‘O Jove!’ quoth she, ‘how much a fool was I,    1015
To be of such a weak and silly mind     
To wail his death who lives and must not die   
Till mutual overthrow of mortal kind;     
  For he being dead, with him is beauty slain,     
  And, beauty dead, black chaos comes again.    1020

Jove: In classical mythology, Jove or Jupiter was the Roman name for the king of the gods. His Greek name was Zeus.
Till . . . mortal kind: Till the end of mortal men.
chaos: In classical mythology, a state of confusion and disorder that existed before the gods, earth, and man came into being.
 
‘Fie, fie, fond love! thou art so full of fear     
As one with treasure laden, hemm’d with thieves;     
Trifles, unwitnessed with eye or ear,     
Thy coward heart with false bethinking grieves.’     
  Even at this word she hears a merry horn    1025
  Whereat she leaps that was but late forlorn.    

'Fie . . . thieves: Shame on you, foolish love. You make me so fearful that I feel like a person guarding a treasure while thieves close in on all sides.
Trifles . . . grieves: My cowardly heart imagines the worst, making me grieve for nothing. After all, no one witnessed, with eye or ear, what happened.
Even . . . forlorn: Now she hears a merry horn and leaps in joy even though a short while before she was miserable and despairing.
 
As falcon to the lure, away she flies;     
The grass stoops not, she treads on it so light;     
And in her haste unfortunately spies     
The foul boar’s conquest on her fair delight;    1030
  Which seen, her eyes, as murder’d with the view,     
  Like stars asham’d of day, themselves withdrew:  

The foul . . . delight: The foul boar's conquest of her fair Adonis.
Which seen . . . withdrew: As if murdered by this sight, her eyes close. They are like stars that disappear in the morning because daylight shames them into hiding.
 
Or, as the snail, whose tender horns being hit,     
Shrinks backwards in his shelly cave with pain,     
And there, all smother’d up, in shade doth sit,    1035
Long after fearing to creep forth again;     
  So, at his bloody view, her eyes are fled     
  Into the deep dark cabins of her head:    

Or . . . pain: Or, like a snail whose tender horns are struck, shrinks backward with pain into his shell.
Long . . . again: Later, he's afraid to creep forth again.
So . . . head: So, at the sight of Adonis's bloody body, her eyes take refuge in the deep dark shelter of her head.
 
Where they resign their office and their light     
To the disposing of her troubled brain;    1040
Who bids them still consort with ugly night,     
And never wound the heart with looks again;     
  Who, like a king perplexed in his throne,     
  By their suggestion gives a deadly groan,    

resign: Submit.
Who  . . . again: Her brain advises her to continue to keep her eyes in darkness so that she will never again wound her heart with horrible sights, like the one she beheld moments ago.
Who: The heart.
By their suggestion: By the eyes' suggestion.
 
Whereat each tributary subject quakes;    1045
As when the wind, imprison’d in the ground,     
Struggling for passage, earth’s foundation shakes,     
Which with cold terror doth men’s minds confound.     
  This mutiny each part doth so surprise     
  That from their dark beds once more leap her eyes;    1050

Whereat . . . shakes: At the sound of the groan, each tributary subject of the king (other body parts that serve the heart) quakes in the same way that the earth shakes when wind below the ground struggles to escape. This shaking of the earth frightens men.
This mutiny . . . eyes: It is this kind of turbulence that causes Venus's eyes once more to open.
 
And, being open’d, threw unwilling light     
Upon the wide wound that the boar had trench’d     
In his soft flank; whose wonted lily white     
With purple tears, that his wound wept, was drench’d:     
  No flower was nigh, no grass, herb, leaf, or weed,    1055
  But stole his blood and seem’d with him to bleed.    

trench'd: Inflicted by cutting a wide gash.
flank: Side of the body between the chest and leg.
whose . . . drench'd: Whose flesh, usually lily white, was drenched with blood (purple tears) from the wound.
No flower . . . bleed: The nearby flowers, grass, herbs, leaves, and weeds—all stained with blood—seemed to bleed with him.
 
This solemn sympathy poor Venus noteth,     
Over one shoulder doth she hang her head,     
Dumbly she passions, franticly she doteth;     
She thinks he could not die, he is not dead:    1060
  Her voice is stopp’d, her joints forget to bow,     
  Her eyes are mad that they have wept till now.

This . . . doteth: Noting the solemn sympathy of the flowers, poor Venus hangs her head over one shoulder.
Dumbly she passions: In silence she suffers.
Franticly: This spelling is acceptable, but the word usually appears as frantically.
she doteth: She dotes on Adonis.
forget to bow: Forget how to bend.
Her eyes . . . now: Her eyes are angry that they have wept before now—that is, they are angry that they didn't save more tears for this moment.
 
Upon his hurt she looks so steadfastly,     
That her sight dazzling makes the wound seem three;     
And then she reprehends her mangling eye,    1065
That makes more gashes where no breach should be:     
  His face seems twain, each several limb is doubled;     
  For oft the eye mistakes, the brain being troubled.    

That her . . . three: That her sight, distorting what it sees, makes the wound seem like three.
reprehends: Chides; scolds; reproves.
mangling: Mistaken.
seems twain: Seems like two.
several: Separate.
For . . . troubled: For often the eye makes mistakes when the brain is troubled.
 
‘My tongue cannot express my grief for one,     
And yet,’ quoth she, ‘behold two Adons dead!    1070
My sighs are blown away, my salt tears gone,     
Mine eyes are turn’d to fire, my heart to lead:     
  Heavy heart’s lead, melt at mine eyes’ red fire!     
  So shall I die by drops of hot desire.    

Two Adons: Two Adonises.
 
‘Alas! poor world, what treasure hast thou lost?    1075
What face remains alive that’s worth the viewing?     
Whose tongue is music now? what canst thou boast     
Of things long since, or anything ensuing?     
  The flowers are sweet, their colours fresh and trim;     
  But true-sweet beauty liv’d and died with him.    1080

face: An example of synecdoche (sih NEK duh ke), a figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole. Here, face represents the entire body.
Whose . . . now: Whose tongue makes beautiful music, now that Adonis is dead? World, what past events can you boast about? What future events are worthy of attention?
 
‘Bonnet nor veil henceforth no creature wear!     
Nor sun nor wind will ever strive to kiss you:     
Having no fair to lose, you need not fear;     
The sun doth scorn you, and the wind doth hiss you:     
  But when Adonis liv’d, sun and sharp air    1085
  Lurk’d like two thieves, to rob him of his fair:  

'Bonnet . . . you: There's no need for any of you to wear a bonnet or veil anymore to protect yourself against the elements. Neither the sun nor the wind will have anything to do with you, because you are no Adonis. You lack his beauty.
rob him of his fair: Rob him of his beauty.
 
‘And therefore would he put his bonnet on,     
Under whose brim the gaudy sun would peep;     
The wind would blow it off, and, being gone,     
Play with his locks: then would Adonis weep;    1090
  And straight, in pity of his tender years,     
  They both would strive who first should dry his tears.   

'And therefore . . . weep: Adonis, however, would wear his hat, under whose brim the golden sun would peep. The wind would blow it off to play with his locks. Then Adonis would weep.
And straight . . . tears: Immediately, in pity of the boy, they both would vie to be the first to dry his tears.
 
‘To see his face the lion walk’d along     
Behind some hedge, because he would not fear him;     
To recreate himself when he hath sung,    1095
The tiger would be tame and gently hear him;     
  If he had spoke, the wolf would leave his prey,     
  And never fright the silly lamb that day.    

would not fear him: Did not wish to scare him.
recreate: This word means to entertain or amuse oneself. Its pronunciation is REK re ate, not RE cre ate.

 
‘When he beheld his shadow in the brook,     
The fishes spread on it their golden gills;    1100
When he was by, the birds such pleasure took,     
That some would sing, some other in their bills     
  Would bring him mulberries and ripe-red cherries;     
  He fed them with his sight, they him with berries.    

other: Others.
 
‘But this foul, grim, and urchin-snouted boar,    1105
Whose downward eye still looketh for a grave,     
Ne’er saw the beauteous livery that he wore;     
Witness the entertainment that he gave:     
  If he did see his face, why then I know     
  He thought to kiss him, and hath kill’d him so.    1110

urchin-snouted: Urchin is an archaic word for hedgehog. A hedgehog is a small mammal that resembles a porcupine. Thus, to Venus, the boar's snout (nose and jaws) looks like the snout of a hedgehog.
Whose . . . grave: Whose downward gaze is always looking for ground to dig up. (Boars dig for food, such as roots and insects.)
Ne'er . . . wore: Never saw the beauty that clothed his prey, judging from the deadly greeting that he gave Adonis.
If he . . . so: If the boar did see his face, why then I know he meant to kiss him and, in so doing, killed him.

‘’Tis true, ’tis true; thus was Adonis slain:     
He ran upon the boar with his sharp spear,     
Who did not whet his teeth at him again,     
But by a kiss thought to persuade him there;     
  And nuzzling in his flank, the loving swine    1115
  Sheath’d unaware the tusk in his soft groin.    

Who . . . there: Who did not react by sharpening his teeth but by giving Adonis a kiss to persuade the youth to like him.
flank: Side of the body between the chest and leg.
Sheath'd . . . groin: Unintentionally drove his tusk into the soft groin of Adonis.
 
‘Had I been tooth’d like him, I must confess,     
With kissing him I should have kill’d him first;     
But he is dead, and never did he bless     
My youth with his; the more am I accurst.’    1120
  With this she falleth in the place she stood,     
  And stains her face with his congealed blood.    

'Had I . . . first: I must confess that if I had had teeth like the boar's, I would have killed Adonis before the boar did so.
congealed: Thickened.
 
She looks upon his lips, and they are pale;     
She takes him by the hand, and that is cold;     
She whispers in his ears a heavy tale,    1125
As if they heard the woeful words she told;     
  She lifts the coffer-lids that close his eyes,     
  Where, lo! two lamps, burnt out, in darkness lies;    

coffer: Chest or other container for storing valuables.

Two glasses where herself herself beheld     
A thousand times, and now no more reflect;    1130
Their virtue lost, wherein they late excell’d,   
And every beauty robb’d of his effect:     
  ‘Wonder of time,’ quoth she, ‘this is my spite,     
  That, you being dead, the day should yet be light.    

Two . . . reflect: His eyes were mirrors in which she saw her reflected image a thousand times in the past. Now they no longer reflect anything.
Their virtue . . . effect: Their power to captivate, in which they excelled, was gone. And every other beauty has been robbed of its effect.
'Wonder . . . light: Wondrous Adonis, she says, I now must endure the ironic pain that you are dead but the day is still light.
 
‘Since thou art dead, lo! here I prophesy,    1135
Sorrow on love hereafter shall attend:     
It shall be waited on with jealousy,     
Find sweet beginning, but unsavoury end;     
  Ne’er settled equally, but high or low;     
  That all love’s pleasure shall not match his woe.    1140

Sorrow . . . end: Sorrow shall accompany love hereafter. And where there is love, there shall be anxiety and worry. Love may find a sweet beginning, but it will end badly.
Ne'er . . . woe: Never will the joy love gives—the pleasure it confers—be equal to the woe it causes.
 
‘It shall be fickle, false, and full of fraud,     
Bud and be blasted in a breathing-while;     
The bottom poison, and the top o’erstraw’d     
With sweets that shall the truest sight beguile:     
  The strongest body shall it make most weak,    1145
  Strike the wise dumb and teach the fool to speak.    

'It . . . beguile: Love shall be fickle, false, and fraudulent. Blight will kill budding love in the time it takes to draw a breath. The poison in the elixir of love shall be strewn over with sweets that will trick even the truest eye.
The strongest . . . speak: Love shall make the strongest body weak, make the wise dumb, and teach the fool to speak.
 
‘It shall be sparing and too full of riot,     
Teaching decrepit age to tread the measures;     
The staring ruffian shall it keep in quiet,     
Pluck down the rich, enrich the poor with treasures;    1150
  It shall be raging mad, and silly mild,     
  Make the young old, the old become a child.    

'It . . . treasures: Love shall be stingy but also full of excess, teaching even old people the steps of dances. It shall quiet the staring ruffian, bring down the rich, and enrich the poor with treasures.

‘It shall suspect where is no cause of fear;     
It shall not fear where it should most mistrust;     
It shall be merciful, and too severe,    1155
And most deceiving when it seems most just;     
  Perverse it shall be, where it shows most toward,     
  Put fear to valour, courage to the coward.    

'It  . . . mistrust: It shall harbor suspicion when there is no cause for it; it shall trust when it should most mistrust.
And . . . just: And most deceitful when it seems most trustworthy.
Perverse . . . toward: It shall be stubborn when it seems most agreeable.
Put: Give.
 
‘It shall be cause of war and dire events,     
And set dissension ’twixt the son and sire;    1160
Subject and servile to all discontents,     
As dry combustious matter is to fire:     
  Sith in his prime Death doth my love destroy,     
  They that love best their love shall not enjoy.’    

'It . . . fire: Love shall cause war and other dire events, and create conflict between son and father.
Subject . . . fire: The cause and servant of all discontents, like the dry wood that starts and maintains a fire.
Sith . . . enjoy: Since death destroyed my love, Adonis, in his prime, they that love best—as I did—shall not enjoy their love.
 
By this, the boy that by her side lay kill’d    1165
Was melted like a vapour from her sight,     
And in his blood that on the ground lay spill’d,     
A purple flower sprung up, chequer’d with white;     
  Resembling well his pale cheeks, and the blood     
  Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood.    1170

By . . . white: By this time, the dead boy next to her disappeared like a vapor from her sight, and in his blood spilled on the ground a purple flower, checkered with white, sprang up.
Resembling . . . stood: The patches of white resembled his pale cheeks, and the purple looked like the blood staining his cheeks.
 
She bows her head, the new-sprung flower to smell,     
Comparing it to her Adonis’ breath;     
And says within her bosom it shall dwell,     
Since he himself is reft from her by death:     
  She crops the stalk, and in the breach appears    1175
  Green dropping sap, which she compares to tears.    

it: Its fragrance.
And says . . . dwell: And says it shall dwell within her bosom, since Adonis—taken from her by death—can no longer live there.
She crops . . . tears: She harvests the flower, breaking its stalk. The break releases green sap, which she compares to tears.

 
‘Poor flower,’ quoth she, ‘this was thy father’s guise,     
Sweet issue of a more sweet-smelling sire     
For every little grief to wet his eyes:     
To grow unto himself was his desire,    1180
  And so ’tis thine; but know, it is as good     
  To wither in my breast as in his blood.    

'Poor . . . guise: "Poor flower," she says, "this is how your father (Adonis) looked."
Sweet . . . sire: You are the sweet-smelling child of a more sweet-smelling father, a child whose every little grief would have made him cry.
To grow . . . blood: To grow up properly was his desire, and so is it your desire. But know that it is as good to grow old in my breast as it is in his blood.
 
‘Here was thy father’s bed, here in my breast;     
Thou art the next of blood, and ’tis thy right:     
Lo! in this hollow cradle take thy rest,    1185
My throbbing heart shall rock thee day and night:     
  There shall not be one minute in an hour     
  Wherein I will not kiss my sweet love’s flower.’    

next of blood: Next of kin; heir.
 
Thus weary of the world, away she hies,     
And yokes her silver doves; by whose swift aid    1190
Their mistress, mounted, through the empty skies     
In her light chariot quickly is convey’d;     
  Holding their course to Paphos, where their queen     
  Means to immure herself and not be seen.    

hies: Goes.
Paphos: City on the southwestern seacoast of the island nation of Cyprus. In classical mythology, the birthplace of Venus was near the city.
immure: Confine.

About the Author

Michael J. Cummings, a native of Williamsport, Pa., was a public-school teacher, journalist, freelance writer, author, and college instructor before retiring and devoting his time to writing. He graduated from King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and undertook additional studies at Elmira (N.Y) College and Lycoming College in Williamsport. He also underwent training at the American Press Institute. Mr. Cummings is the author of five print books, twelve e-books, and more than 2,500 newspaper and magazine articles. Among those he interviewed over the years were actors Peter Ustinov and Dennis Weaver, Merrill-Lynch chairman William Schreyer, Indy race-car champion Rick Mears, and George W. Bush (while he was running for vice president on Ronald Reagan's ticket). Mr. Cummings continues to reside in his hometown.