What is your substance, whereof are you made,
That millions of strange shadows on you tend?
Since everyone 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 blessèd shape we know.
In all external grace you have some part,
But you like none, none you, for constant heart.
What is your true essence, what are you made of, that there should be millions of reflections of you? Every person has only one image, but you, though you’re only one person, lend something to everyone else’s image. If an artist tries to depict
Adonis: a mythological youth who was so beautiful that Venus, the goddess of love, fell in love with himAdonis, he’ll wind up creating an inferior imitation of you. If he were to paint
Helen: a famously beautiful woman over whom the Trojan War was begunHelen as beautifully as possible, he would again wind up with a picture of you, decked out in Greek costume. Praise the spring and the abundant harvest season—but the spring is only a faint shadow of your beauty, and the fall a faint imitation of your abundance. We recognize you in every blessed sight that we see. You are part of every beautiful thing, but you’re not like any of them—you’re incomparable—in the constancy of your heart.