‘How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?’
[Sonnet 65, lines 3-4]
The flower represents the creative and reproductive ability of nature. In any kind of sane world this beauty, this purity, this power should be enough to keep it out of harm’s way. The flower cannot stand up in a court of law and say, “Stop it. I am being mistreated”, but why would it ever have to, with humanity here to take care of it?
Shakespeare has spoken to us through time in our era of faster, more deadly and less natural opponents than he could have known himself. Today, ‘pomp’ is the rage; the oil-guzzling rain-forest-crunching machine is the rage; ‘Dictator Pound’ growing fat on his throne of the bones of good ideas that cannot survive the law of instant gratification; the politician dining prettily with a murder of arms-dealing psychopaths whilst children wash up on a beach fleeing war; the needless shiny objects mass produced to provide ‘quality for everybody’ to the cost of the earth, and the millions and millions of beautiful innocent animals we pay others to torture from birth to death so we can have a nice Sunday roast…these are all the rage.
Everything that makes absolutely no sense… how shall beauty hold a plea against all that?
The future is painted as bleak in the sonnet, yet a tiny almost imperceptible glimmer of hope is given… “unless this miracle have might, that in black ink my love may still shine bright.” And here we have it ‒ the act of reading these lines so many centuries after they were written is to witness the miracle, and within it the power of beauty to endure, proving that the strength of a flower is not to be sniffed at.
Take Physic, Pomp!
Image source: The Folger Library, from the Trevelyon Miscellany of 1608. Pattern: borage; roses; honeysuckle.