I hadn't attempted to read any of Shakespeare's poems or sonnets before. Even after having taken half a dozen graduate classes in American poetry there is something intimidating about the very word "poetry".
But this poem was approachable. It didn't feel like poetry it felt like an intimate short story; which I guess is a pretty decent definition of poetry.
Venus and Adonis
From a temporal perspective, Venus and Adonis represents both Shakespeare's first work, published in 1593, and the earliest set play, being set in the time of ancient Greece (around 700 BC).
The poem begins with Venus, claiming to be madly in love with Adonis. Venus wants Adonis to stay by her side and love her back. She wants to shower him with affection and do nothing but bask in the feelings that she gets being around him. Adonis has other passions; mainly to hunt.
There is something great about watching this dynamic between the Goddess and the mortal. Adonis, being a young man, has a literal need to hunt. Since he is incredibly beautiful he has been given the gift of the affection of a goddess. Not just any Goddess, contestably the most beautiful of the Goddesses. But what happens to anyone when they are simply given something without having to earn and pursue it? They disregard it. It's hard for any man to really appreciate Adonis's position because there doesn't exist a man that beautiful. But I've seen how differently the most beautiful people are treated and I can get a glimmer of this. Women can get a glimpse of this whenever they go onto social media or a dating site as they can get dozens or hundreds of men shower them with attention.
What would it be like to be so beautiful that a Goddess will throw herself at you? My first thought is that would be absolutely amazing. But as I think through it I imagine that a man that gorgeous would never get to experience the thrill of pursuing and wooing a woman. The intoxicating mix of thrill and frustration that comes with courting.
I have a friend from high school who is a male model. One of the things that always amazed me whenever we hung out was just how unfazed he was by women. He would routinely ignore women as well as those women ignored me. He never pretended to care what they had to say and he never put women on a pedestal. I guess when the beauty differential goes in the opposite direction then the role of pursuer and pursued switch also. This is probably why I've heard some women say that they don't want to be with men who are "too good looking".
So while I can't relate directly to Adonis I think his dismissal of Venus is the only logical choice he could make. He would have to dismiss her love because it was not earned or won it was merely thrown at him.
Adonis, finding no thrill from the passion of love, seeks out his passion in hunting. Venus begs Adonis to go after safe sport but Adonis has his sights set on hunting a Boar.
There is something amusing about a gorgeous man who, being bored with a beautiful woman, goes hunting for a hairy pig. Unfortunately the hunt does not go well for Adonis. The "loving swine sheathed unaware the tusk in his soft groin". It isn't a coincidence that the Boar destroyed the very thing that Venus most desperately wanted.
Beyond the exploration of pursuing and beauty I was really struck by the exploration of love and lust. Was Venus really in love with Adonis? How could this immortal who was in a forced marriage to the ugliest of the Gods, Vulcan the god of the forge, while carrying on a tawdry affair with the most dangerous of the Gods, Mars the god of war, be capable of having any kind of real feeling for a mortal man? Would her love be sustained when Adonis got older and lost his good looks? There is absolutely nothing that suggests that she would maintain her passion.
“Love comforeth like sunshine after rain,
But Lust's effect is tempest after sun.
Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain;
Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done.
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies.”
This quote of Adonis speaking to Venus is extremely beautiful language comparing love to lust. Adonis seems to instinctively know that Venus's passions are not real which is why he is so contemptuous of her feelings; Adonis recognized that Venus's love was really "Lust full of forged lies".
I found this beautifully shot version of Venus and Adonis on YouTube that was well worth watching.
The ending is very different but still fits with the greater themes of love and passion and being scorned.
The poetry is harder to read than the plays because you need to pay closer attention. But that isn't a bad thing. This was an excellent way to begin my Shakespeare Journey.