Venus and Adonis: stanzas 41-68, or “Whoa”

OK, after Friday’s bawd-fest, let’s slow things down a little with the next 28 stanzas of Venus and Adonis, ones that give us some bizarre description, a depiction of nature that is obviously a metaphor for how our titular characters should be (?) behaving, and more Adonis with “no no” on his lips and Venus with “yes yes” in her eyes.

The first two stanzas of the section–remember this follows some of the most “obdurate” double entendre in the poem–begin with “Adonis smil[ing] as in disdain” (241). If he is smiling in disdain, I would say he got the double entendre and is having none of it. But he’s smiling as he would in disdain. That’s a discernible difference. Does he get it but is being coy, playing hard to get? Or is he obdurate in the head and oblivious to everything Venus is saying? I’m not quite sure what’s behind the smile.

But the smile itself is what’s important here. It causes his cheeks to dimple, and the poet to spend five lines describing the love-made hollows, and how he might be buried in holes as simple as his dimples, but if he knew that in those holes/early dimples is where love lived he would never die. If that sounds crazy and convoluted, the next stanza tells us why: this is the mental state those dimples have caused in Venus. The dimples “opened their mouths to swallow Venus’ liking. / Being mad before, how doe she now for wits?” (248-9). The girl’s got it bad. She can’t even speak coherently, and Adonis takes this advantage to head for his horse.

And this is where it gets Animal Planet-interesting. Before he can get to his horse, another horse appears, “a breeding jennet” (260), a female horse who gets Adonis’ horse so hot-and-bothered, that he breaks free from his rein and heads toward her. If that wasn’t enough, “now his woven girths he breaks asunder” (266). In other words, the horse has swollen so much that his saddle straps snap (and suddenly it feels like Friday again… sorry). This is a manly horse and we get a couple of stanzas marveling at his power. And it’s understandable that the horse is no longer paying any attention to Adonis: “He sees his love, and nothing else he sees, / For nothing else with his proud site agrees” (287-8). Folks, this is how love is supposed be. Are you getting this, Adonis?


Anyway, after a passage

Round-hoofed, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
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—
  • 295-8

that sounds much like a sonneteer praising his lady-love (or the Dauphin talking about his horse in Henry V), we see this horse slowed by the female horse’s “outward strangeness” (310), playing hard to get. As his horse slows, Adonis attempts to take back his horse, but the horse dumps him to the ground and runs off into the woods with the female temptress.

Adonis is left “all swoln with chafing” (325).

I’ll bet.


“He sees [Venus] coming” (337), and pulls down his hat to hide his face. And since he’s got the hat over his eyes, “taking no notice that she is so nigh, / For all askance he holds her in his eye” (341-2). OK, I’m assuming that because he’s not paying attention, not focusing on her, he’s unable to see that see is so close. But, I also see in that couplet just the hint of him playing coy, him playing hard-to-get.

She plops down in front of him, tosses off his hat, and takes his face into her hands (though, if you want to argue it, I might be convinced that “His tend’rer cheek receives her soft hand’s print / As apt as new fall’n snow takes any dint” [353-4] is actually her slapping him). They stare into each other’s eyes, and she is crying. She tells him that that her heart is his, and his heart is her wound. It’s a nice statement, but

“Give me my hand,” saith he. “Why dost thou feel it?”
“Give me my heart,” saith she, “and thou shalt have it.”
  • 373-4

But Adonis is having none of it. Instead, he tells her, “For all my mind, my thought, my busy care, / Is how to get my palfrey from the mare” (383-4). That about sums it up.

Venus, being Venus, has an answer for that, though. She tells him that his horse is only doing what Nature instructs him to do. She tells him that Adonis had tied the horse to a tree like a lesser horse, and this is why the horse broke free (you know, he’s a real horse, not a fake; i.e., be a real man, Adonis, and take me). She tells him this is how it should be, and in the final stanza, puts it as plainly as one could:

“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.”
  • 403-8

This is what they call “a teachable moment.” The question is: will Adonis learn?

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