THE DARK LADY REFLECTIONS
With the words of
Amelia Lanyer, and Stuart Diamond
I had been in London. Many years ago, when I was a young man. No internet, no smart phones, no GPS. So when you wandered the streets, you actually looked at things. That’s how I found the diary.
It was in SoHo. Then it was still a neighborhood of dark and winding streets, a bit rough and hewn – a quality of Dickens in the air. I found an old bookstore – one of those antiquarian shops that seemed to inhabit a timeless space. I walked in. As I said, I was young, so I was most likely looking for something less than pure. I found it in a back room on a dusty shelf – a tiny slim volume. Its cover was fragile – but etched on its centerplate was a golden flower. I thought it would make a nice souvenir – a memory for a later time. I asked the bookseller for the price. It was still a time of pence and shillings – confusing numbers to my way of counting things. But he sold it with a nonchalance - and it was mine.
Only upon my return home did I really examine it. I laid the tiny book upon my desk. Picked up a corner of the cover and carefully opened. Before me, lay faded ink upon a withered page – pale letters that were hard to see. But at the bottom of the page in a larger hand was a name – “Amelia” and the letter “L”.
It was years later before I learned what I may have found. I came across an article in a journal about the poet women of Elizabethan times. The scholars wrote of one, who they said was the very first, the first whose words were published in England.
Her name? Amelia… Lanyer… with an “L”. I rushed back to my little book – and this time took the time to discern what was said. Indeed, they were words of love … and anger.
I returned to the libraries to learn more about this Amelia, and found that there were some who said she may have been William Shakespeare’s secret love - the mysterious Dark Lady – the subject of 27 of his sonnets - and the object of both his adoration and scorn.
Then I began to lay her words against his – an enigma was both proposed and solved. What if Amelia had in 1609 – the very year Will’s sonnets were first published – walked in to the very shop in which I had walked. What if she found a book of Sonnets – by her former lover? And when she picked it up, discovered that it revealed for all to read – both his love and disdain for a woman that she knew all would know to be her. What would she have said? What would you have said?
And then I began the work to solve the puzzle of who was this woman who had won – and lost – Shakespeare’s heart.
the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty's name;
But now is black beauty's successive heir,
And beauty slanders with a bastard's shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature's power,
Fairing the foul with Art's false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven black.
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Slandr'ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.
He says I am dark. Dark of complexion, dark of soul. Did I really affect him so? I was all of 23. And he... he was the rising star of the court... of the theater – Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet. Everyone knew his name. We were not youths, not children. He acts as though it was his first youthful infatuation. There were many men around and about at that time. The court was glittering. I was handsome they said, exotic, a dark beauty. What accident of fate, my destiny to be born as I was?
I look in a mirror and what is there to see? My hair is streaked with white. Am I that old? Not yet, but soon -- I will. Is my skin truly that dark as they said? And then these eyes. My eyes, they are black, black as a raven, yes, maybe so. But they still see. And though my sight is fading, I still see myself as a young woman. I see my skin as clear, my hair full and long. And I loved as a women. My loins gave birth and I nursed with these breasts. I am a woman, plain and simple. And yet, who and what did they really love?
How oft when thou, my music, music
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway'st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap,
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap,
At the wood's boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O'er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more bless'd than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss.
So he loved my music. But did he ever really understand what it is to be a musician. When you first sit down at a keyboard and press a nimble finger to the wood to hear its sound, it is but a curiosity. But then through time the music enters you, seeps into every pore, until there is little left of what was - and you are now the music, sculpted by sound.
Odd, how they all looked at me when I played. Oft I felt I was making love through this music… if they only knew. It is oh so intimate. When I played, I could dream of bedding one that would strike my fancy. It is so much easier to choose one and play just for one being, one heart. Will, that is my music. Did I ever dream of you when I played? I do not remember. I cannot say.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action: and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad.
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
Did he really hunt me with such a ferocious hungered flame? Did he really want me to such a shame? If I recall at first it was just a kiss. It was In the hall. Was it Spring or was it Winter? Why did we kiss? For me it was merely a dance. There were other men, other players in the game. It was the Court. It was silly. It was dangerous. I was a master of my world. They all wanted me, when I was young. It was simple, a glance of an eye, the accidental brush of a hand. Even the women were not immune. Oh the women, that was where the danger lay. Even the Queen noticed. Yes, that was my flattery. The women were dangerous for they understood the game from the inside out.
I stopped my reading and wondered. Was there a link between William Shakespeare’s sonnets and this diary that I held in my hand? Were these writings Amelia’s most intimate thoughts about their liaison? I closed the book and went back to my library. It took but a few minutes of research to discover that Lanyer’s Salve Deum Rex Judaeorum was published in 1611 – only two years after the sonnets. Was it possible? I then read Amelia’s insight into what portends when one grows old.
Amelia (from Salve Deum)
What outward Beauty which the world commends,
Is not the subject I will write upon
Whose date expired, that tyrant Time soon ends,
Those dawsie colors soon are spent and gone:
But those fair Virtues which on thee
attends with virtue
Are always fresh, they never are but one.
The insight that time destroys beauty was so… so Shakespearian. I wondered: What else could I fathom from this diary?
My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.
And is this
who I was? A painted image in his mind. Brown skin, red lips, breasts of dun,
wired hair. Am I as women, no more than that to these men? Yet he was so
intelligent. We all said he was the perceptive one. He speaks of my eyes. But
what of his, for when his eyes fell upon you… I remember now… so
pleading, so sad, that there was a chill in the air. His gaze became my
For though he saw deeply into my eyes, what did I see in his? It was frightening, because when he looked, you knew he knew. He saw the truth of others. It was his gift… it was his curse. How could one love one that knew more of you than you knew yourself?
Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes,
That they behold, and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be.
If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchored in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes' falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
Why should my heart think that a several plot,
Which my heart knows the wide world's common place?
Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
In things right true my heart and eyes have erred,
And to this false plague are they now transferred.
To be born under Beauty's laurel leads to the curse of these men pleading and then despising, to be used, abused and raped. I had my Lord and patron – the lord chamberlain himself. I sat on his right arm. His true wedded wife was nothing to him. He lauded me; he spent his wealth on me. But I was nothing. When I presented him with child I was quickly banished, married off to dear Alfonso.
And then I was ugly. Big-bellied and married. Suddenly I knew what it was to be
shunned. And when my daughter came… Oh, that was an ecstasy. And then these
men, these self-satisfied men, let me return to their court, to their presence.
Oddly, I was more sought. Mistress was one thing, but my married state made me
safer, freer to be free with them.
Forgive me Will, I take little heed of talk of how your eyes perceive Beauty this way or that. Your genius was bound to your balls as with all men. As we women are tied to our womb, our babies. But to look my daughter's raven black eyes, those most beautiful eyes. That was the wonder of my times.
Amelia Lanyer’s Salve Deum is a Passion – the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Quite a common literary form back then. But as I read her work, I soon understood the novelty – for the scholars say that this was the first time the story was penned to paper from a woman’s point of view. And what makes Amelia’s stature grow today is that it is more than a simple supplication – for it also tells a tale of Eve’s Apology - the true reason why she and Adam were from Eden sent. Listen to what she wrote:
Amelia (Salve Deum)
Our Mother Eve,
who tasted of the
Giving to Adam what she held most dear,
Was simply good, and had no power to see,
The after-coming harm did not appear:
The subtle Serpent that our Sex betrayed,
Before our fall so sure a plot had laid.
But surely Adam can not
Her fault though great, yet he was most too blame;
What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused,
Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
Although the Serpents craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame.
And then it came to me. Was this the very first written thought behind a revolution: That the Fall from Paradise was not the fault of Eve, but Adam’s? And was it Shakespeare’s fault that Amelia saw like this? I returned to the diary in earnest – and continued to lay Will’s words next to hers.
Beshrew that heart that makes my heart to groan
For that deep wound it gives my friend and me!
Is't not enough to torture me alone,
But slave to slavery my sweet'st friend must be?
Me from myself thy cruel eye hath taken,
And my next self thou harder hast engrossed:
Of him, myself, and thee I am forsaken;
A torment thrice three-fold thus to be crossed.
Prison my heart in thy steel bosom's ward,
But then my friend's heart let my poor heart bail;
Whoe'er keeps me, let my heart be his guard;
Thou canst not then use rigour in my jail:
And yet thou wilt; for I, being pent in thee,
Perforce am thine, and all that is in me.
And now he curses me as though I were to blame for these words of
furious love. Could he have not known that I would read these words? These
words that I look at now, with which he curses me. Yet I cannot resist. I am
bewitched by the very language that despises me. From some icy tomb his words
come forth to touch me, to haunt me with a word-wise specter.
Was he that maddened -- to forfeit himself, his world, his genius to me? No, if he suffered his genius only grew. For his work was spared after all that transpired. He himself did not understand that all his suffering was of his own making, a necessary concoction for his own wisdom. I was its tool, fodder for his genius.
And for Will, poor Will. Such imagination. I know full well what misery imagination can create. But such genius treasoned upon itself is a hell beyond imagining. For all the magic his genius could create, it must be Satan's sorcery when bewitched upon itself.
call not me to justify the wrong
That thy unkindness lays upon my heart;
Wound me not with thine eye, but with thy tongue:
Use power with power, and slay me not by art,
Tell me thou lov'st elsewhere; but in my sight,
Dear heart, forbear to glance thine eye aside:
What need'st thou wound with cunning, when thy might
Is more than my o'erpressed defence can bide?
Let me excuse thee: ah! my love well knows
Her pretty looks have been mine enemies;
And therefore from my face she turns my foes,
That they elsewhere might dart their injuries:
Yet do not so; but since I am near slain,
Kill me outright with looks, and rid my pain.
My dear, dear Will. Wound thee with my words? What words, then? These words I have now were not present then. For that was a time, as a girl, when my eyes were my weapons, to wound and hurt. I knew no battle could be won upon your field of words. Even a girl, naïve and sweet, knows where to choose her crossing. I had but these eyes with which to win the war. You dear friend had an eternity of words. Words that stride across the bridge of time. I learned these very words with which I write from you. And yet, they are but paltry daggers against your sword. Oh, Will, who is the victor? How could you be so confused?
I smiled to myself. For I have been there. A brief infatuation – followed by a downward spiral to my own self-inflicted misery. But did I ever really understand how my adoring looks could be such a burden to the very person whom I said I loved:
Amelia (Salve Deum)
And then to lay the fault on Patience
That we (poor women) must endure it all;
We know right well he did discretion lack,
Being not persuaded thereunto at all;
If Eve did ere, it was for knowledge sake,
The fruit being fair persuaded him to fall:
No subtle Serpent’s falsehood did betray him,
If he would eat it, who had power to stay him?
Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love,
Which made her give this present to her Dear,
That what she tasted, he likewise might prove,
Whereby his knowledge might become more clear;
He never sought her weakness to reprove,
With those sharp words, which he of
God did hear:
Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he took
From Eve’s fair hand, as from a learned Book.
Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil,
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turned fiend,
Suspect I may, yet not directly tell;
But being both from me, both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell:
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
A question for my Will: Are you
man or woman? Angel or Devil? Which should be sorted with which?
You paint the women as the worser sex. But we always wondered who and what you were, for we all felt, not only I, that there was something queer about our Will. He had his men, yes, but others shared in such. That was not what was the odd part. He had a gift. For he understood me, all the ladies, in a way that was beyond the knowing of the most perceptive man. It was a way that only a woman knows a woman. He felt in a woman’s way. He would weep with us; he would giggle and gossip. But then in a flash he would change and with the Lords talk of war and blood as though sport could be made of such. Yes, he was both Devil and Angel, Woman and Man. Like no other. The question remains: Which went with what?
is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen's are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
Was I this hell, dark as night? Was I this fever to him to be
leeched from his blood? Would the physician bleed him to empty his heart of the
black bile that I was to him?
Yet, did I ever love as such? Is this love - or a sickness beyond any reason-proscribed madness?
I wish I could love like this, but such love was robbed of me when I was but a girl. They all wanted me. Even in my Mistress's house they took me. And yet I was supposed to be their daughter – a sister. They took me in the dark. Hell was night. I hid, the only way I could - in my work, my studies, my music. Oh, I was brilliant. That was the gift of my legacy. And then I emerged triumphant.
As I compared Amelia’s private and public words, I deliberated: Was this bond with Will Shakespeare - so inspiring and yet hurtful – (like so many of the loves that I have known) – could this be the origin of her own unforgiving words?
Amelia (Salve Deum):
If any Evil did in her remain,
Being made of him, he was the ground of all;
If one of many Worlds could lay a stain
Upon our Sex, and work so great a fall
To wretched Man, by Satan’s subtle train;
What will so fowl a fault amongst you all?
Her weakeness did the Serpent’s words obey;
But you in malice God’s dear Son betray.
Whom, if unjustly you condemn to die,
Her sin was small, to what you do commit;
All mortal sins that do for vengeance cry,
Are not to be compared unto it:
If many worlds would altogether try,
By all their sins the wrath of God to get;
This sin of yours, surmounts them all as far
As doth the Sun, another little star.
In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn,
But thou art twice forsworn, to me love swearing;
In act thy bed-vow broke, and new faith torn,
In vowing new hate after new love bearing:
But why of two oaths' breach do I accuse thee,
When I break twenty? I am perjured most;
For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,
And all my honest faith in thee is lost:
For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,
Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy;
And, to enlighten thee, gave eyes to blindness,
Or made them swear against the thing they see;
For I have sworn thee fair; more perjured eye,
To swear against the truth so foul a lie!
Dear Will… I loved you and I loved
you not. But I did not forget. How could I not remember those words? This
is how you inseminated me. Words which gave birth to all that flows forth
from me now. They are your bastard children. For your words are everywhere.
Your words shape me now, as did music once before shape me. But your words sing
beyond my simple bedchambers. Your words are everywhere, words than ring forth
on every stage. Words that will replace the misbegotten utterances of Kings and
Queens. Words that will live like ghosts, eternal shadows through the ages.
Your legacy of words will shape every generation hence born.
Will, I wish I loved you more. Maybe I could have loved the simple, little Will. But that other Will… could any woman, earth-born, loved that Will. I chose Christ as my path to Eternity. Your Earthly sorrow, Will, is that you are your own path to Immortality. For you will live forever in the hearts and minds of everyone who follows. I live only in the Heart of Christ.
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful
That these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.
Truth or not, it is a choice to make: The worms will feast upon my
flesh, while my soul will live in Heaven's wedded bliss. And Will? Can worms
feast on words, such beautiful thoughts and sounds? Are these words your
immortality? Can words and thoughts be ideas so rich that they never die? Is
this the Immortality with which Will will cheat Death's Dark Prince?
Are my words such that they will live in another heart, generations hence from my dying days? Are these words, words of such sorrow, the portal to Eternity? And are my poor verses destined to forgettery, earthed in dusty libraries is some ancient future tomb?
AMELIA (Salve Deum)
Then let us have our Liberty again,
And challenge to your selves no Sovereignty:
You came not in the world without our pain,
Make that a bar against your cruelty;
Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
Our being your equals, free from tyranny?
If one weak woman simply did offend,
This sin of yours, hath no excuse, nor end.
Amelia’s words made me think. What was my guilt? What were my reasons why? What words could I mount to address her cry? I picked up my pen and these were the words – the answer that came so easily:
It is said that
it was the Serpent
That first hissed the silver song of Love,
As it wrapped itself around Eve's Eden heart.
"Come and touch the fruit of Knowledge,
To know what is good and what is not,
What is this and what is that,
To finally know there
Is another that is not you”
If Eve had only touched the Tree of Life
Instead of the Fruit of Mind
Where would we have wandered?
Life would have found no force to know itself.
We might exist... but how so lowly a beast
Inarticulate and deaf to tears and joys.
Hearts bereft of knowing what it is to know.
"So come and taste the blessed fruit
That will let slip the scales from sleepy eyes.
Let thoughts take root in Eden's ground,
That there is someone else
Beyond the boundaries of what is you."
We are ashamed, for we are made separate.
But in the Falling from the Grace we gained the Blessing
Of what it is to leave and find our way home again.
Love returned is the
true gift of Eve,
The fruit of that first Apple's bitter bite.
For a moment it was quiet – not a thought was had. And then, I returned to the diary – to Will’s and Amelia’s war of words. For there was one last sonnet and one response - which told me why we return – to love – and try – time and time again.
laid by his brand and fell asleep:
A maid of Dian's this advantage found,
And his love-kindling fire did quickly steep
In a cold valley-fountain of that ground;
Which borrowed from this holy fire of Love,
A dateless lively heat, still to endure,
And grew a seething bath, which yet men prove
Against strange maladies a sovereign cure.
But at my mistress' eye Love's brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;
I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distempered guest,
But found no cure, the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire; my mistress' eyes.
For all the many lovers I ever had, and how good they might have been and how strong and handsome, there was something different about how you and I came together. For what made our joining special was that we both understood the secret of both words and music. The secret is not in the sounds we hear. The truth of lies just behind these sounds. It is in the silence… the feelings, the undulations… pushing the sounds forward through time. It is the give and take between the strokes of strings and fingers upon the keys that is the music. It is that silent movement that moves an audience to tears. And it was this silence in which we made our love. Our bodies were no more the truth of our lovemaking than the sounds are the truth of music. The reality lives beyond either. And so when we came together, it was as a rich duo. Sinuous complex melodies bounded by rich harmonies, yearning, and answering in the same breath. And no one else I have ever known, no matter how good and strong and beautiful, made this love-music as we did.