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Shakespeare Sonnet 47

Updated on November 15, 2018
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

The true writer of the Shakespeare works
The true writer of the Shakespeare works | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 47

In Shakespeare Sonnet 47, the speaker is dramatizing the unity that exists between the "heart" and "eye" of the speaker/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 not only satisfies the balance and harmony of the artist, but it 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 role as craftsman. Not only is he creatively innovative, but he is also able to organize and mold his art in the best possible ways.

Sonnet 47

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 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 "good turns now unto the other." 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 continues before it finishes in the second quatrain.

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:

When the speaker desires to see with his eye or feel 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 "smother[ed]" "with sighs." He needs then simply to bask in the fullness of his love and emotion.

The speaker's eye is nourished by "love’s picture" and then "to the painted banquet" his eye invites his heart. And at other times, "mine eye is my heart’s guest." They both now "share thoughts of love."

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 "thy picture or my 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. And through the speaker's poems, "I am still with them and they with thee." 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. Their unity 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.

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, "Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight."

The De Vere Society

Dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare  were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford | Source

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare." For example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Traditionally classified as "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy." Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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