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
(Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare)
Apparently Shakespeare is pulling somebody’s legs. May be, Petrarch’s imitators in England, whose conventional love sonnets were probably the rage of the day, where the beloved is “falsely” compared with roses, snow, perfumes,angels etc. and hyperbole and cliche ruled the poetry of the day.
Or was he pulling the legs of his own beloved,probably the dark lady ,who had luckily none of the roses-and-peaches complexion and yet seemed to have the attitude of somebody who had the charms of a typical Elizabethan belle, with a pout on her lips.
May be , he thought she was acting the la belle dame sans merci,someone who thought highly of herself,worthy of a better lover. The debunking of the contemporary love sonnet form is no doubt there at the back but was he poking fun at the idea of romantic love itself? Well, it looks like that if we observe the poet’s use of absolutely “unchivalrous” words to describe the lady’s physical attributes ,more particularly in use of words like ‘reek'(breath),dun(breasts) etc.
Interestingly Shakespeare describes the lady in terms of what she is not and does not say a single thing about her positive attributes.