Venus and Adonis: stanzas 102-37, or “not-quite-lovers argue”

When last we left our titular not-quite-lovers, in stanza 101 of Venus and Adonis, she had–upon learning that he was leaving her to hunt the boar in the morning–fallen to the ground, pulling him down onto her, and kissed him some more in hopes of changing his mind.

But even the poem’s narrator knows this is…

But all in vain; good queen, it will not be.
She hath assayed as much as may be proved.
Her pleading hath deserved a greater fee.
She’s Love, she loves, and yet she is not loved.
  • 607-10

He demands to be released, and she tells him that she would have let him go, but not to hunt the boar. And then she proceeds to spend the next three stanzas describing the fearsome beast, and telling him that she fears for his life. She continues (another four stanzas) pleading with him to be safe, to not hunt the boar, telling him, “That if I love thee I thy death should fear” (660). So if not for his own sake, he shouldn’t hunt the boar because of the torment it will put her through. And if that’s not bad enough, she’s had a vision that ends with a dead Adonis “Whose blood upon the fresh flowers being shed / Doth make them droop with grief and hang the head” (665-6).

That’s no simple dream. If you know your Ovid, and Shakespeare surely did, you know this is a vision of the future. And she feels it: “I prophesy thy death, my living sorrow, / If thou encounter with the boar tomorrow” (671-2). If he must hunt, she says, then hunt rabbits, foxes, deer, anything else; then as if knowing how silly it sounds to hunt the rabbit, she spends six more stanzas describing the wiles of that wascaly-wabbit. She tells him that she has one more thing to tell him.

And then we get a gag. The 120th stanza begins “Where did I leave?” as in where did I leave off? What was I saying? The rhythm is busted and “‘No matter where,’ quoth he” and he goes on to tell her he has to go because his friends are expecting him, and it’s getting dark and he doesn’t want trip and fall.

She counters that this darkness is Nature itself conspiring to keep him with her and safe. Venus then goes off on this weird oppositional stretch (“mingle beauty with infirmities / And pure perfection with impure defeature” [735-6]), that culminates in purely negative, diseased and decaying imagery:

“As burning fevers, agues pale and faint,
Life-poisoning pestilence and frenzies wood,
The marrow-eating sickness, whose attaint
Disorder breeds by heating of the blood;
 Surfeits, impostumes, grief, and damned despair
 Swear Nature’s death for framing thee so fair.
  • 739-44

Why has Nature created all these horrible things? Because she has made him “so fair.” (and for those of you who see quite a bit of venereal disease imagery in the above stanza, I see it too… Is Venus saying that Adonis is so hot that he’d make others go and have promiscuous and unsafe sex with just about anyone, any diseased partner? maybe) And before you can say, “Hey, I’ve read the sonnets, I know where this is going…” she continues, telling him that his beauty is great, overwhelming, and wonderful…but also fleeting. Therefore, she says, he should give up “fruitless chastity” (751), and “[b]e prodigal” (755). His body is but a grave that will bury that beauty unless he leave it behind; failing to do so, “the world will hold thee in disdain, / Sith in thy pride so fair a hope is slain” (761-2). The world–hell, HISTORY–will hate him if he leaves no copy. She finishes off her argument–and our section today–telling him that in keeping his beauty from future generations is worse than civil war, suicide, and the killing of one’s own children.

So (let’s) get busy, she tells him.

Any bets that he says yes?

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