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Shakespeare Sonnet 43: "When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - the real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 43: "When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see"

In the Shakespearean sonnet 43 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the creative speaker asserts that his dreaming vision which includes his poetic muse is always brighter than daylight. Even though he sees ordinary objects in daylight, they cannot hearten him as does his muse in dreams or darkness. The speaker's muse who leads him to his poetry creation remains the brightest star in his life. A nighttime of bright muse is worth much more any daytime of ordinary light.

Sonnet 43: "When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see"

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 43

Commentary

In sonnet 43, the speaker is musing on the transformative powers of his poetic muse. She can turn night into day, while ordinary vision fails to inspire.

First Quatrain: Seeing While Sleeping

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 43, "When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see," claims that he sees best when he "sleeps," or visits the astral, mental world because it is then that he experiences his belovèd—the poetry muse. The dark behind the closed eyes of sleep, whether day or night dreaming, reveal to the speaker all the love and beauty he desires. The speaker then muses on his belovèd with a concentration directed toward fashioning his thoughts and feelings into a sonnet. The darkness is figuratively lit up with the brilliance of creativity. He sees many objects during the day that are ordinary to which he seldom gives a second glance.

Second Quatrain: Bright Shadow

Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!

Even the shadow of the speaker's muse is bright, filled with light that makes a "happy show." The speaker plays with incremental repetition here in such lines as "whose shadow shadows doth make bright" and "How would thy shadow’s form form happy show." And the speaker also uses the alliteration of sibilant sounds: "to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!" The skillful speaker is practicing his skill with words as he celebrates and praises his poetic muse. Again, this talented poet/speaker insists that even the darkness or the shadow of his muse is "clearer" than the ordinary light of day. This speaker's mental world is brighter and more amazing to him than the physical world he perceives with his physical eyes.

Third Quatrain: A Question of Rhetorical Importance

How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!

The third quatrain is an exclamatory rhetorical question: how could I fancy seeing you in the ordinary light of day when the shadow of your presence lights my sleep, and unlike the flitting glances of daylight vision your "imperfect shade" remains with me in my mental world!? The rhetorical question answers itself by asserting that the speaker’s mental vision is superior to his physical vision because it is permanent when the speaker deems it so.

The Couplet: Reversing Day and Night

All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Day and night reverse themselves in the musings of the speaker. If he does not encounter his muse in ordinary light, then it might as well be night for him. But when the speaker's muse appears to him, even if it is night, even if he is merely dreaming, then nighttime transforms into a "bright day[]."

Incremental Repetition

This sonnet employs the rhetorical device known as incremental repetition in classical rhetoric. This type of repetition places emphasis on a word or thought as it adds texture and specificity to the line or phrase. The repeated term appears often but not always in a slightly altered form, for example, "darkly" and "dark," "shadow" and "shadows." In sonnet 43, the following lines employ incremental repetition:

Line 4: "And DARKLY bright, are bright in DARK directed."
Line 5: "Then thou, whose SHADOW SHADOWS doth make bright"
Line 6: "How would thy shadow’s FORM FORM happy show"
Line 7: "To the CLEAR day with thy much CLEARER light"
Line 13: "All days are nights to SEE till I SEE thee"

One might imagine that he poet in this piece had decided to practice the use of this device, but if so, his practice because of his skill resulted in a rich texture of verse. His voice sounds as natural as if he had been speaking right off the top of his head. Of course, that skill remains the reason that this speaker can be so assured of the value of his creations. He is a true bard and he knows it.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: The Real "Shakespeare"

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 05, 2017:

Thanks, Louise! I appreciate your feedback. Have a blessed day!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 05, 2017:

That's beautiful Linda. Thankyou. =)