Skip to main content

Unpublished Poetry Series: The Thunder-Spirit

  The Thunder-Spirit Night time--the orange Clouds withhold oncoming rain; Afar the thunder Lingers to oblivion: Restless are the ways That fulfill unspoken dreams Their lives amongst us, As time that summons passing As a startled bird To wake us in the moonlight Of a winter sleep. Douglas Thornton

A Biographical Remark in Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis



An essay invoking the cognitive relationship between Shakespeare's biographical life and Shakespeare's poetical life found in his narrative poem: Venus and Adonis.

‘And lo I lie between the sun and thee’

(Venus and Adonis; line 194)

To see the poet in the act of composition, to hear his words tell not only the story, but with imaginative zeal, recount the inner movements of his life, makes prejudice relax, and involves the reader in a fantasy that was at one time lived and deeply felt. Be it that each successive experience, in time, becomes poetic, or that the perception of our thoughts be seen through poetry, the dull aspects of life are but a mask to our feelings and lead us into paths that give semblance to lesser hours. That we may see and find something true, not about the story, but about the man, testifies, in mind, to that in which all great poets have taken part, that in writing the story or the verses of another, he sees his spirit live in the exotic realms of his subject. What is hoped then is that from a close reading of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis we may see and understand the poet, and from that piece together a parallel moment in his life.

Venus and Adonis, the earliest written of the two (or three) narrative poems of Shakespeare, takes its plot from Ovid's Metamorphoses, a book which, if not his favorite, certainly held a special place in the young poet's heart. The story recounts the unrequited love of Venus for Adonis, wherein Venus, not being able to prevent Adonis from going on a hunt, soon hears of him being mortally wounded by a boar. For when Adonis, being pulled away from Venus by the vision of the hunt, says to her: 

‘The sun doth burn my face; I must remove.’ 

we first gain insight to the underlying theme of the poem, that Adonis has fallen into a situation from which he cannot free himself so easily. And when Venus replies: ‘And lo I lie between the sun and thee’, knowing that to take away his right to choose gives her hope of conquering, we become aware that as love lies between Adonis and the boar, his inability to hunt makes him impotent to love. The poem, coming to a close, finally sees Adonis setting out on the hunt with this wonderful and irrefutable piece of advice for Venus: ‘Before I know myself, seek not to know me’. For our purposes, it is through these above three lines of pure and harmonious inspiration that we may see Shakespeare in the act of composition; through the will and desire of Adonis to find the innocence of that which is in creation by bringing the image and memory of himself to life in searching for the untamed spirit of the boar.

In the year 1582, at the age of 18, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, eight years his elder, reminding us somewhat of the mature Venus and young Adonis of the poem; the only difference being that five months later Anne Hathaway bore him a child. A year or so later were born twins and from there on the new family could have fallen into obscurity but for one single event. 

After three years of domestic life, about the end of the year 1584-85, we find Shakespeare, Adonis-like, riding away from the woman who loved and bore him a family, with a sigh of relief. The young man's mind, for some time touched by a poetic vision, had become suffocated by the daily burdens of the household; for the first time, somewhere amongst those three years, he had reflected on his life, and more than once came to a striking conclusion resonating through their conjugal alliance. 

If we consider Shakespeare and the events of his life up to this point, he had  become a man before his time; for, being forced into parental and conjugal duty before he could take stock of the meaning of Elizabethan ideals, he came to a point where he felt overwhelmed; a rebellion had taken place, a struggle deep inside that, no doubt, laid the groundwork for all his future poetical works. On the one side we may see the pressure of his wife and her parents urging him to start earning money to support his family, to improve their position, as was the common thought of the day; and on the other, the sweet and altering thoughts of poetry consuming the ever heavy moments of his idle hours. It is here, in the cloudy realm of his marital life, that the Adonis-effect becomes true to us and to Shakespeare; for between him and his idea, the insurmountable difficulty of the love he owed to his wife and his new family, joined with a desire to create poetry, had made him impotent to both passions. The sun, the vision, had become too much, and as Adonis, his inability to create, to hunt the untamed spirit of poetry, had made him vow: ‘The sun doth burn my face; I must remove’. Now he must remove himself from the confines of domestic life, believing the urge, the poetic vision, too strong to be denied. But vaguely floating through his mind were those words: 'And lo I lie between the sun and thee' every time he was pulled away from the quiet loft of poetry, or when despair had gotten the better of him, forced in a sense to love what he could not, or was not yet ready to love, because he had not given expression to his vision. For who of us has not been ashamed of some silent and heartfelt idea finding the light of day, and then having the courage to go forth with it? Thus we see, perhaps after a long and bitter winter, William Shakespeare bidding farewell to Anne Hathaway in his haste for London, which, in the words of Adonis, find some resonance: 

‘If any love you owe me,

Measure my strangeness with my unripe years;

Before I know myself, seek not to know me’.

This departure marks the beginning of the seven lost years of Shakespeare’s life, from 1585 to 1592, when he is found satirized in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit. The next year, 1593, Venus and Adonis is published; and in 1596, when we can say with close certainty that Shakespeare returns to his wife, he is a successful and wealthy playwright, but above all, a man. Venus and Adonis, like all first attempts, the poet being unsure of himself, but indeed more passionate and abundant in force, holds a special place in the works of Shakespeare; and as anyone trying the first secrets of imagination, he found more sense in the events of his own life while reading them in the tales of those long past.

Douglas Thornton

**All quotes come from William Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis.

Published at The Society of Classical Poets

Comments

Most Popular Posts

NEWLY PUBLISHED TRANSLATIONS!!

Newly published at the Society of Classical Poets:   Translations of André Chénier’s Poetry, by Douglas Thornton The Flute Douglas Thornton Ever tender and touching the moment, When pressing himself the flute to my mouth, Laughing and pulling me close to his breast, He named me his rival and soon to be Master.  My stiff and timid lips were shown To breathe an air pure and harmonious, And my young fingers, by his practiced hands, Being raised and lowered a hundred times, Though ever so trying, were taught to close The different holes of the sonorous wood. La Flûte André Chénier Toujours ce souvenir m'attendrit et me touche, Quand lui-même, appliquant la flûte sur ma bouche, Riant et m'asseyant sur lui, près de son coeur, M'appelant son rival et déjà son vainqueur, Il façonnait ma lèvre inhabile et peu sûre A souffler une haleine harmonieuse et pure; Et ses savantes mains prenaient mes jeunes doigts, Les levaient, les baissaient, recommençai

A Poet's Journal: September 23rd, 2013

September 23th, 2013 A flock of geese passed on the 20th--only the second to date, the other being sandhill cranes.  The 22nd marked the equinox and the moon rose with such grandeur that I was able to follow the contours of a crater with my binoculars until it was enveloped in the earth's shadow.  It makes us wonder what things we would see if we could only look hard enough; or rather, if we could focus our mind on one thought with such illuminating perception, what would our view from the earth look like and where the paths of migration lead? Douglas Thornton

A Poet's Journal: February 14th, 2015

  February 14th, 2015 What is with the recording of a journal if it is not to look back upon it one day and see our ignorance, and to a lesser extent, find out the times that we have been most genuine.  The truth is that it is difficult to like oneself in hindsight because we can see that we are merely running up against our own ego time and time again, wondering why things are this way and always asking what if.  Our whole sense of individuality is based on the thought that we are different, that we suffer more, are happier, more discerning, always the better or worse of everybody else; but if it comes to us as such, if we must convince ourselves that the materiality of our thoughts is the only way to end our troubles, then that means that we are lacking something either way, that we are ignorant of whom exactly we truly are and only look into ourselves to find an answer satisfying enough.  It is rare indeed to find someone completely hidden, whose own words do not lean upon him for s

Seasons Of Mind ON SALE NOW!!

There is time for nothing else in this world but what we ourselves have set afoot, and finding the majority of our efforts occupied with a certain hope of reward, it is not distasteful to give ourselves pleasure with simplicity and joy in far-seeming whims.  Thus, it is the hope that, with the release of Seasons Of Mind, those of you may find in it a pleasure to your free time and a joy in reflection. Please note that Seasons Of Mind may be bought through any distribution channel (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc...) or by going to your local bookstore and ordering a copy.  But also, by clicking on the image below you get 10% off.  The ebook is still in the process of being formatted and should come out in the next week or two.

Newly Published Poetry: The Wintering-Ground (With Audio)

As winter is finally coming to a close, let us reflect upon the passing season and find a place where we are truly alive.  Please click on the link below or scroll down to read this newly published poem: The Wintering-Ground by Douglas Thornton The Wintering-Ground Within what hut, My woodland maid, May I remain awhile? Next what fire may my chills Be warmed? Be there A path that leads Past stony piles and tells Us not to walk alone? I do not think, My woodland maid, Deep sleep my dreams will find; Nor will my coldness cede To warm sunshine. But if my steps Should weary long, nor learn My ways to scorn, that hut Through lost defiles I’ll find once more. Douglas Thornton

A Poet's Journal: October 7th, 2013

October 7th, 2013 To peruse the pages of forgotten books is a pastime in which I shall always partake; and though it turns out that very few sentences are actually read, the mere fixture of the words, or the subject, create an affinity in the mind apt to deeper contemplation.  Hardly can such a book be opened before we feel exist a mystic relationship with what is old, and even more so to the obscure, and far from leading us into a clear path of understanding, that same awkward and unsettling sentiment transfixes us and our thoughts drift back and forth upon the page until it is no longer the story to which we are attached, but the power of our imagination.  It is only when we feel we need to know something that words become our greatest let down; they are but a means to the mysterious--for even among the driest of archaeological accounts there remains something so unilluminating, that were the greatest poet to take up their theme, he could not inspire a finer feeling than the de