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‘The True Beauty’ is one of the most famous poems of Thomas Carew. In this poem, the poet shuns the flimsy notion of love based on physical attributes. In contrast, he hails love that seeks inner beauty.
About the Poet:
Thomas Carew (1592-1640), was a seventeenth century Cavalier poet. Cavalier poets were a group of English poets who were loyal to Charles I during the English Civil Wars. Their major accomplishments include writing posh, elegant lyrics. Born in West Wickham, Carew was educated at Corpus Christ, Oxford. He, although a true disciple of Ben Jonson, was greatly influenced by Donne, a great metaphysical poet of England. He had also written an elegy in tribute to Donne. Carew wrote highly musical poems including his longest piece ‘The Rapture’, a fine poem on love.
The theme of the poem, as the title suggests, revolves around beauty, or rather, the transience of beauty. From the beginning of the poem, physical beauty is disregarded. The inner, or rather, spiritual beauty is glorified.
The poem is divided into two stanzas of six lines each with a rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of this poem is abab cc dbdb ee, wherein each stanza has four lines in it followed by a rhyming couplet. This is a lyric poem, a short, powerful poem that is highly musical in nature.
He that loves a rosy cheek Or coral lip admires, Or from star-like eyes doth seek Fuel to maintain his fires; As old Time makes these decay, So his flames must waste away.
The poem begins with a reference to a ‘He’ to represent all those who fall in love with the physical beauty of, in this context, a woman. It states how all these pleasing physical attributes such as a ‘rosy cheek’, ‘coral lip’ and ‘star-like eyes’ fade with time. It also states how his ‘fires’, referring to his desire and passion, too would fade off should ‘He’ fall for outer beauty.
But a smooth and steadfast mind, Gentle thoughts, and calm desires, Hearts with equal love combined, Kindle never-dying fires:- Where these are not, I despise Lovely cheeks or lips or eyes.
Here, the poem elaborates on what true beauty is. Rather than the physical beauty it just shunned, the poem praises the beauty of a ‘smooth and steadfast mind’, clearly giving importance to the intelligence the love interest ought to possess. Further, the poem goes on to add that ‘gentle thoughts’, ‘calm desires’ and ‘Hearts with equal love’ are what true beauty is and how these are the attributes that would kindle the kind of passion that is perpetual.
The final couplet firmly asserts how the poet persona despises physical beauty in light of erudition and a pure soul.
In conclusion, the poem disdains love that only pursues physical attributes. It asserts the temporary nature of physical beauty as opposed to the perennial inner, spiritual beauty that is a combination of knowledge, a pure heart and a clean mind.