Sonnet 93: How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow

Painting Shakespeare’s sonnet 93

Lena Levin. Sonnet 93. 2016
Lena Levin. Sonnet 93. 2016

So shall I live, supposing thou art true,
Like a deceived husband; so love’s face
May still seem love to me, though altered new;
Thy looks with me, thy heart in other place:

For there can live no hatred in thine eye,
Therefore in that I cannot know thy change.
In many’s looks, the false heart’s history
Is writ in moods, and frowns, and wrinkles strange.

But heaven in thy creation did decree
That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell;
Whate’er thy thoughts, or thy heart’s workings be,
Thy looks should nothing thence, but sweetness tell.

How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,
If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!

William Shakespeare. Sonnet 93

The previous sonnet equates love with life, and ends with not knowing, with rejecting the desire to know. This one plays with this temptation — with the tension, or even irresolvable contradiction between love and knowledge — and ends with the image of Eve’s apple: the desire to know leads one into exile from the garden of Eden.

Rhythmically, the sonnet falls into two parts. In the first two quatrains, the thought tends to stop, to pause between the lines, or even in the middle of the line. Then, starting with But Heaven in thy creation did decree, the thought flows, as though the resolution of the tension is found: love wasn’t created to for us know it; it resists knowledge. And yet, the mention of creation invokes Eve’s apple: the temptation is always there.

We are caught in the conundrum of three oppositions: love versus know, looks (beauty) versus heart, true versus false. The mind wants to decide whether truth lies in love or in knowledge, but there is no answer.   

In the painting, a curtain of beauty and love — a rain of colour — hides a twisted human figure. I don’t know whether this twisted human form represents the invisible essence of the addressee, or the self-torture of the speaker’s struggle to decide whether he wants to love or to know. Perhaps both — perhaps there is no difference between the two.