Mine eye hath played the painter and hath steeled,

Its about time for another Shakespeare sonnet, and once again this is a tour de force of verbal and metaphoric dexterity. This sonnet plays with the idea that the physical image of a person is as much a creation of the beholder as innate in the person being looked at. Thus the eye is a painter filling its canvas with its interpretation of the person it is looking at. Read this two, three, four times, each time you will see a new aspect, a new idea, a new means of expression. This is a truly mind-expanding poem.

Sonnet 24

Mine eye hath played the painter and hath steeled,
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective that is best painter’s art.

For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun

Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

From <http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/24&gt;

So, just as the painter translates the appearance of a subject onto canvas, more or less faithfully, more or less filtered by the techniques and artistic intent of the artist, so the eye translates the person it sees into the consciousness of the onlooker. The poet invites the subject of his gaze to participate in his interpretation of her form and beauty, to see herself through his eyes, as she would look at a painting. This is a way of reinforcing the notion that how we see and perceive people cannot be said to be an absolutely true image, but is a powerful mix of visual stimuli modified by mental processes and experience. And so to the payoff, in the last two lines – whatever the image captured by the eyes, and whatever transformation is conjured by the viewer, the inner essence of the person, their heart, cannot be revealed, only imagined.

Shakespeare as art theorist, psychologist, behavioural scientist and poet…. I take my hat off.

The Poetry Dude


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