What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since every one hath, every one, one shade,
And you but one, can every shadow lend.
Describe Adonis, and the counterfeit
Is poorly imitated after you;
On Helen’s cheek all art of beauty set,
And you in Grecian tires are painted new:
Speak of the spring, and foison of the year,
The one doth shadow of your beauty show,
The other as your bounty doth appear;
And you in every blessed shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.
Sonnet 53: Translation to modern English
What is there so special about you, what are you made of, that you can express millions of unusual forms? Everyone else has only one form but you, although just one person, can add something to everyone else’s form. Try and paint Adonis and the forgery is a poor imitation of you. Or capture Helen in all her beauty and it’s you, newly painted in Grecian clothes. Mention the spring and the rich harvest season – the one is just a weak reflection of your beauty and the other a pale imitation of your richness. We recognise you in every beautiful object we see. There’s something of you in every appearance of beauty but you’re not like any of them – and none of them are like you – in the constancy of your heart.
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