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Shakespeare Sonnet 53: "What is your substance, whereof are you made"

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction: The Divine Nature and Creation

This exceptionally talented speaker has been examining his own talent related to his poetry creations. He is well aware that his ability to compose sonnets far exceeds that of many who have written before him and who are now publishing.

The speaker, however, prefers to concentrate on eternal verities. Thus, he muses on the nature of God and God's relationship to the speaker's own soul.

This speaker's concentration has been so focused that it has led him to understand the dual nature of the material level of being. And more importantly, that concentration has led him to at least the early stages of meditation, wherein the soul begins to become aware of it own nature.

Thus, in sonnet 53 this speaker demonstrates that he is becoming ever more aware that the Divine Creator has created all of creation and has inserted a spark of that divine nature into each of His creations.

Thus, in sonnet 53 this speaker demonstrates that he is becoming ever more aware that the Divine Creator has created all of creation and has inserted a spark of that divine nature into each of His creations.

Reading of Sonnet 53

First Quatrain: "What is your substance, whereof are you made"

The opening quatrain of sonnet 53 finds the speaker posing a question, "What is your substance, whereof are you made, / That millions of strange shadows on you tend?"

As this very talented speaker begins to address his Belovèd Divine Creator, he is asking that Reality about the composition of Its being.

The phrase "millions of strange shadows" refers to the many created things that take their existence and/or that flow from the substance of the First Cause, Divine Reality, or God.

The speaker is thus elucidating the nature of the Divine Reality. This speaker knows well that that Reality exists as the creator and the storehouse for his special talent for creating and organizing his poetry.

In his multitudinous collection of sonnets, this extraordinarily talented speaker has long since discovered his soul nature. He has come to comprehend his soul's relationship with his talent for poetry creation.

Thus, this speaker has come to understand the unity that exists between that gift of talent and the Ultimate Creative Force.

The speaker then avers: "Since every one hath, every one, one shade, / And you but one, can every shadow lend." The Divine Reality is one entity, but creatures emanating from the Creative Force exist as many.

God, or the First Cause, exists as only one "substance"—one being. Yet, His creatures remain similar to His shadows. It remains a conundrum to puzzle the small human mind that One Being can, indeed, possess a multitude of shadows.

Second Quatrain: "Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit"

The speaker, as a poet, is wont to allude to mythological pieces by which to examine his own art. Thus, he remarks: "Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit / Is poorly imitated after you."

The speaker is contending that even the loveliest of manmade creations pales in contrast to the Ultimate Creative Force That originally brought them into existence.

Divinity remains thus planted squarely on "Helen’s cheek." The First Cause can be considered to be newly attired after the fashion of the Greeks. The speaker is exemplifying beauty as it has existed down through the ages.

The speaker is contending that the wholesomeness and loveliness of all manmade objects are merely reflections of the works of the Divine Artist's talent.

The Divine Artist has eternally extended his talent to his created beings.

Third Quatrain: "Speak of the spring, and foison of the year"

Further samplings of divinely inspired beauty exist in nature in the seasonal activity of spring with its new-born green, fall's multi-colored leaves, winter's snowy blankets, summer's pleasurable temperatures. All these effusions are alluring to the human senses.

The speaker then remarks: "Speak of the spring and foison of the year, / The one doth shadow of your beauty show."

The speaker then asserts that the Creator remains in everything He has created: "The other as your bounty doth appear; / And you in every blessed shape we know."

The First Cause, or Ultimate Force, contains not only omniscience but also omnipresence as well as omnipotence.

The Couplet: "In all external grace you have some part"

No created part of the Whole can ever claim to be the Whole. However, every part possesses features that become evident to the senses, despite the fact that the senses can never completely detect that Whole.

The Ultimate Reality has never condescended to make Itself comprehensible to the senses. The awareness of the First Cause, Divine Reality, or God can only be attained by the soul, which is itself a spark of the flame that is the Divine Belovèd.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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