Issue 1 1, Winter 2015 Women Issue 2 2, Winter 2016 Humdrum

Shakespeare’s Simplicity

The text here is the THRENOS from Shakespeare’s The Phoenix and the Turtle. The poem is about impossible love between two different types of birds, the mythical phoenix and the turtledove. But for me it is really about the failure, the death of “truth, beauty, rarity” – the death of idealism.

Beauty, truth, and rarity.
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclos’d in cinders lie.
Death is now the phoenix’ nest;
And the turtle’s loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,
Leaving no posterity:–
‘Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.
Truth may seem, but cannot be:
Beauty brag, but ’tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.
To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.