We have all heard the phrase “Beauty is only skin deep,” but the poem “The True Beauty” by Thomas Carew explains why the phrase is so true, in a poetic way.
Thomas Carew was one of the most noted and well-known English poets of the 16th century. Love and human experience were some of the most common themes of his poems.
The True Beauty is a short poem with just two stanzas and 12 lines, and the message of the poem is also fairly simple.
Let’s take a look at the poem first and then at its meaning.
The True Beauty by Thomas Carew
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. 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.
Meaning and Analysis of the Poem
The meaning of the poem is very simple, but profound as well. Carew says that the man who loves a woman just for her physical appearance is in for a lesson.
The physical appearances that are very appealing in the beginning soon start to decay as the effects of time start to take a toll.
The poet says that a person whose passions are run by fickle things such as rosy cheek, red lips, and bright eyes will soon find himself unmotivated when physical appearances start to fade.
Do note that the poem is not about beauty, but it is about a man’s passion, his motivation being dependent on the physical beauty of the woman.
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.
A man who needs rosy cheeks, red lips, and bright, star-like eyes to compel him to create verses, poetry, or art will be disappointed when time takes away all these things from the woman.
And then he shall find his muse missing. Then what must a man look for in a woman? What must he seek to maintain his fuel? We get the answer in the second stanza.
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.
The poet then adds the qualities a man must look for in a woman. He says that before looking for physical beauty, look for inner beauty. But how?
The poet then lists the things one should look for in a woman and as the fuel for one’s fire. Instead of looks, one must look for a steadfast mind.
The woman must have gentle thoughts and planted desires. She must be mature and understanding.
Then the poet says perhaps the most important line of the poem; “Hearts with equal love combined” meaning that the love must be balanced between the two.
One must not love someone just because they are beautiful, even if the other person does not love you back. Love is an equal exchange.
Once you have taken care of all these things, it will kindle a fire inside you that can never die. The inner beauty of not just a woman but any person remains forever. It can never die.
So ignite your passion with the inner beauty as your fuel and you shall never run out of the fire that drives you to do and create great things.
The poet then ends the poem by saying that if these qualities, the inner beauty is not present in a woman, then he despises even rosy cheeks or lips or beautiful eyes.
The Essence of the Poem
The essence of the poem might seem obvious but it is not. To understand the essence of it, one must go back in time to when the poet was alive.
There was a time when poets would look at the most beautiful women they could find and write about their physical beauty. This poem was a response to those poems.
Instead of giving the idea that the outer beauty of a woman should be the prime mover of your passions, it must be the inner beauty. “How she looks” shall never overpower “How she is.”