In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slander'd with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on nature's power,
Fairing the foul with art's false borrow'd face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profan'd, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' brows are raven black,
Her eyes so suited; and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Slandering creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn, becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says, beauty should look so.
CXXVII. This Sonnet is the first of the second series, a series concerned mainly with the poet's dark mistress. The Sonnet treats of the degeneracy of the times with regard to beauty. Black hair and a dark complexion were not formerly considered beautiful. And, besides, artificial beauty had usurped the place of Nature. It was suitable, therefore, after all, that the eyes of the poet's mistress should be black, as mourning over such a state of things; and they make black itself beautiful. This Sonnet should be compared with the passage in Love's Labour's Lost, Act iv. sc. 3, beginning, "Is ebony like her? O wood divine." Compare also Sidney's Astrophel and Stella (vii.):
"When Nature made her chiefe worke, Stella's eyes,
In colour blacke why wrapt she beames so bright?
. . . . . . .
That whereas blacke seemes Beauties contrary,
She even in blacke doth make all beauties flow?
. . . .She minding Love should be
Placed ever there gave him this mourning weede
To honor all their deathes who for her bleed."
3. Beauty's successive heir. Has gained the esteem formerly devoted to beauty. The "successive heir" is the heir who succeeds, and obtains the inheritance.
4. And beauty slander'd with a bastard shame. The "bastard shame" is the product of art. Beauty and Nature are slandered by the artificial asserting in effect that Art is better than Nature.
5. Hath put on Nature's power. It being Nature's prerogative to give beauty.
7. Natural beauty has no exclusive name, no sanctuary all her own. Q., "no holy boure."
10. Suited. The sense of "clothed" which has been given to the word here is questionable.
12. Slandering creation, &c. See on line 4.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/127.html >.
How to cite the sidebars:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/127.html >.
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