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

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford


Introduction: Turning Nighttime into Day

In the Shakespearean sonnet 43, 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.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 43

First Quatrain: “When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see”

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: “Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright”

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: “How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made”

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: “All days are nights to see till I see thee”

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 to of his head.

Of course, that skill remains the reason that this speaker can be so assured of the value of his creations. He was a true bard and he knew it.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 11 months ago from U.S.A.

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

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 11 months ago from Norfolk, England

      That's beautiful Linda. Thankyou. =)