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Shakespeare Sonnet 47: "Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took"

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

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

First Edition of Shakespeare Sonnets

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 47: "Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took"

In Shakespeare sonnet 47 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker is dramatizing the unity that exists between the "heart" and "eye" of the artist. He has struggled to understand the nature of this union, and he now realizes to the fullest its vital importance for his art. This union constitutes a quality that satisfies the balance and harmony of the artist.

That union also enhances and deepens the perceptions and sensibilities of the creative artist. The deepening of the ability to perceive and then feel furthers the ability of the artist in his rôle as craftsman. That artist is, thus, creatively innovative, and he is also able to organize and mold his art in the best possible ways.

The speaker, as a man of high adventure and much prior physical prowess in all manner of physical contests, has the ability to grasp relationships between events of being and states of being. The ability to understand origins and their resulting eventualities offers the artist the capabilities required to wield hand and eye coordination.

This marvelous talent is certainly necessary for the artist whose medium is the canvas and paint, but it is equally necessary for the poet to possess such strengths, and this poet is well endowed with those necessary qualities that all artists must possess in order to produce lasting and profound works.

Sonnet 47: "Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took"

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took
And each doth good turns now unto the other:
When that mine eye is famish’d for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart’s guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:
So, either by thy picture or my love,
Thyself away art present still with me;
For thou not further than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them and they with thee;
Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight.

Reading of Sonnet 47

Commentary

The speaker is exploring the nature of coordination of eye and heart. He appreciates and therefore seeks a unity that will consistently enhance his ability to create.

First Quatrain: Separation and Unity

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took
And each doth good turns now unto the other:
When that mine eye is famish’d for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,

In sonnet 46, the speaker began by complaining that his "eye" and his "heart" were struggling against each other. But he had found their unity by the end of the sonnet, and now in sonnet 47, he continues to dramatize the happy advantage of the unity of eye and heart.

Because the speaker’s feeling and vision are now cooperating, they are each doing what assists each of them in their continued endeavors. Sometimes the speaker desires to look at his creations, and sometimes he desires merely to feel. The speaker now begins his thought in the first quatrain but then waits for the second quatrain to put on the finishing touches of that thought.

Second Quatrain: The Fruits of Labor

With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart;
Another time mine eye is my heart’s guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part:

As the speaker engages in seeing with his eye or feeling with his heart, his sensibilities no longer clash but invite each other to enjoy the fruits of each other’s labor. Sometimes the speaker's "eye" becomes "famish’d," and he needs to look at his creations, and at other times, his "heart" is continues to sigh with melancholy

At such times, the speaker needs simply to bask in the fullness of his love and emotion. And for this speaker only true fullness will suffice; he will continue to question and cajole for answers from his silent muse until he has vouchsafed a satisfactory response, one that convinces him that he knows that he knows.

The speaker's eye is nourished by images of love and then the created, well-crafted collection of images, his eye invites his heart. And at other times, his vision is invited by the his emotion, as both eye and heart impart love to each other. The speaker’s dual nature brings invitations to two separate banquets—one for the eye, the other for the heart.

The eye may seem to lavish beauty from mere image observation, while the heart must feel what the eye’s mind interprets. The speaker is seeking confirmation that his eye remains accurate; thus, his heart will appropriate only the true essence of emotion. He insists that the unity be genuine and not some phantom he allows himself to imagine.

Third Quatrain: Blissful Unity

So, either by thy picture or my love,
Thyself away art present still with me;
For thou not further than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them and they with thee;

The blissful unity between "eye" and "heart" results in his love being artistically captured, an act which thus preserves for the speaker the finished "picture" featuring his love. The speaker's creations remain with him, and even if his muse roves far from him, his inspirational urges cannot range farther than his thoughts.

It is through the speaker's heartfelt emotion that he remains with the poems, and additionally, they remain with him. He is, therefore, never without his love, his muse, his inspiration. Through the speaker's eye and heart working in tandem, his creations capture all that is vital to him. The unity of those creations provides him a home from where he never need stray.

The speaker's artistic wholesomeness provides material for his physical and mental, and even spiritual, vitality. He remains ever vigilant that that vitality continue to provide the lifeline that his talent begins. Once begun, the sonnet must venture on to become and remain its own vital substance, and this clever speaker knows well that he must seek beyond his mere mental apparatus to retain the tools that will fashion his fullness of spirit.

The Couplet: The Heart's Awakening

Or, if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight.

Even if the speaker's physical eye and heart "sleep" or take a hiatus from creativity, he still possesses the image of the muse that continues to feed his fancy or which wakes up both his heart and eye to all the delightful experiences that he intuits. The speaker’s vigilance will allow him to watch for the very states of mind and heart that keep both eye and heart in a unified state.

This clever and awakened speaker is capable of speaking from an elevated platform, from which he can oversee his workshop of ideas, limits as well as unbounded forms, upon which he will rely but also upon which he will remain dependent.

Despite any dependency upon physical beings such as his own senses and his vital heart, this speaker knows he can float eternally on the bosom of creative silence through which he has learned to live and breath his sonnets, and through which he can stretch and bend his mental faculties in all directions.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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