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Shakespeare Sonnet 69: "Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view"

Updated on April 20, 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

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 69

The speaker in Sonnet 69 is concerned about the differences between the mind's ability to distinguish truth on the physical and spiritual levels. While the physical level may show outward beauty, the spiritual level possesses the true eternal nature of beauty.

While each human being maintains an outer and inner level of being, it is only those who can access the inner qualities of the heart and mind who truly live and retain the ability to create true art. It must be remembered that this speaker is ever focused on creating art—his sonnets, and thus he continues to elucidate all aspects of art from creation to criticism.

Sonnet 69

Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend;
All tongues—the voice of souls—give thee that due,
Uttering bare truth, even so as foes commend.
Thy outward thus with outward praise is crown’d;
But those same tongues, that give thee so thine own,
In other accents do this praise confound
By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that, in guess, they measure by thy deeds;
Then,—churls,—their thoughts, although their eyes were kind,
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:
But why thy odour matcheth not thy show,
The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.

Reading of Sonnet 69

Commentary

The speaker dramatizes the difference between inner and outer qualities of the human personality, with implications for the healing nature of art.

First Quatrain: Inner vs Outer Personality

Those parts of thee that the world’s eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend;
All tongues—the voice of souls—give thee that due,
Uttering bare truth, even so as foes commend.

In the first quatrain of sonnet 69, the speaker determines that the inner person is not the same as the outer physical appearance. The "heart" can "mend" any deficiency that exists in the beauty and grace of the physical body.

The "voice of souls" uplifts the person who might be rebuked by "foes." Critics who may be "[u]ttering bare truth" are more important than those who seek to nullify it. The heart represents love, while the "voice of souls" represents wisdom; neither is visible by outward senses, but both contend and accomplish without fanfare.

Second Quatrain: Outward Praise Nothing Special

Thy outward thus with outward praise is crown’d;
But those same tongues, that give thee so thine own,
In other accents do this praise confound
By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.

When the outward is "with outward praise" "crown’d," nothing special is gained. Outward beauty degenerates with time, but inner beauty can grow and become even more beautiful over time. All the wagging "tongues" cannot add or detract from inner soul beauty. This speaker has always been more interested and intrigued by the spiritual level of being. He is appalled at the degeneration of the physical level.

The eye is capable of detecting only the outward, mutable appearance, but the heart and soul are more significant than the physical eye because they are capable of "seeing farther than the eye." The reader will remember that this speaker believes that the human personality flowers through creativity.

Third Quatrain: Unworthy Praise

They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that, in guess, they measure by thy deeds;
Then,—churls,—their thoughts, although their eyes were kind,
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:
But why thy odour matcheth not thy show,
The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.

The heart and soul are capable of "look[ing] into the beauty of [the] mind." With such perception, they are able to take "measure of thy deeds." The unreliable adulation of popular criticism based on outward appearance is unworthy and offers no truth. And churlish critics can even distort what they see outwardly and "[t]o [a] fair flower add the rank smell of weeds."

The Couplet: Comprehending Truth

But why thy odour matcheth not thy show,
The soil is this, that thou dost common grow.

Those who fail to grasp the spiritual level of the human personality, especially in the artist, do not "matcheth" or understand the level of truth revealed in the creative works of spiritual artists.

Instead of offering true growth, the superficial viewers negate all art to dirt. They engage in a level of blather that inserts a common denominator into the human personality, while keeping the mind bound to the physical level that is filled with the pain of the temporary. Only at the soul level can consciousness reach infinity. The human personality is capable of reaching that level but remains hide-bound when engaged in too much reliance on the physical senses.

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 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.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

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.

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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