My Mistress’ Eyes

Don’t be alarmed, but I’ve written a poem. Some people are frightened of poetry. This fear even has a name: metrophobia. I understand. I’m afraid of spiders. And brown spots on avocados. But there’s no right or wrong way to read a poem. What does it mean to you? How does it make you feel? That’s what matters. Forget what a teacher might say about it, or even what the poet might have intended.

The poem I am sharing today is a redo of a famous Shakespearean sonnet, the one that starts, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.” Why reimagine a classic? To redeem Shakespeare’s maligned mistress, known as the “Dark Lady.” What began as a joke between lovers circa 1590 has prompted generations of merciless schoolchildren to mock the Dark Lady’s fictitious flaws, which include bristly hair, foul breath, and a lumbering gait.

In “Apology to the Dark Lady” (below right), I have retained all the original rhymes from Shakespeare’s sonnet (below left), but every insult has been replaced—by a compliment of the very highest order! Let’s give the Bard’s enthralling paramour her due, at long last. And let’s give the actor William Shakespeare a standing ovation as his honorary birthday approaches, on April 23.

my mistress side by side copy

CREDIT: The featured image for this post is The Two Sisters (1843), by the French Romantic painter Théodore Chassériau (1819–1856), photo taken by me. Chassériau painted this portrait of his sisters Adèle and Aline when he was twenty-three. When I saw The Two Sisters at the Louvre last year, I was utterly transfixed.

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