Sonnet 113

Shakespeare Sonnet 113

SInce I left you, mine eye is in my minde,
And that which gouernes me to goe about,
Doth part his function, and is partly blind,
Seemes ſeeing, but effectually is out:
For it no forme deliuers to the heart
Of bird, of flowre, or ſhape which it doth lack,
Of his quick obiects hath the minde no part,
Nor his owne viſion houlds what it doth catch:
For if it ſee the rud’ſt or gentleſt ſight,
The moſt ſweet-fauor or deformedſt creature,
The mountaine, or the ſea, the day, or night:
The Croe, or Doue, it ſhapes them to your feature.
Incapable of more repleat, with you,
My moſt true minde thus maketh mine vntrue.

Sonnet 113, which constitutes a pair with Sonnet 114, works the contrast between what the eye and the mind’s eye sees, a common enough conceit. With the poet absent from the friend, the eye that be-holds the friend is his mind’s eye, “mine eye is in my minde” (compare Ham. 1.2.184-5, where Hamlet sees his father “In my minds eye”); “minde” retains its original sense of memory. The sight, the faculty that directs the poet’s movement (“which gouernes me to goe about”), has divided itself from or abandoned its function (“Doth part his function”). The polyptoton, “is partly blind,” intends either partially blind or blind because apart from itself. The sight may appear to see (“Seemes seeing”), but “effectually is out;” in effect, it is spent or snuffed out like a light or candle.

Customarily what the eye saw was converted and received into the mind as a forma mentalis. The poet’s sight, however, “deliuers to the heart” no formae of “bird, of flowre, or shape,” of which it might grasp hold (“latch;” the quarto has an unrhyming “lack”). Evans has pointed out the similarities in Sonnets 113 and 114 to details of the Canticle “Benedicite” or “The Song of the Three Children,” sung after their delivery from the fiery furnace and found attached to the book of Daniel. 1 It was well known as the alternative canticle to be sung daily between lessons in the Book of Common Prayer’s Morning Prayer. The canticle acknowledges a “departing from thee” (Song 29) and the lack of a “gouernour” (Song 38), and prays that “our offring be in thy sight this daye.” It praises God that “sittest vpon the Cherubims” (an allusion taken up in Sonnet 114.6) and calls on manifold creatures to bless the Lord including “nights & dayes,” “mountaines, & hilles,” “sea, and floods,” and “All ye foules of heauen” (Song passim; GV), all features of the sonnet. The mind’s eye of the poet has no share (“part,” continuing the earlier polyptoton) in these “quick obiects,” alive as well as quickly-moving things. Nor does the mind’s eye hold in its “owne vision” what the eye beholds (“what it doth catch”).

Whatever is in the poet’s mind’s eye, whether “the rud’st or gentlest sight,” either the most misshapen or unrefined, or the most refined and well-born, it “shapes them to your feature;” it receives them after the manner in which the friend is made (“feature” is from factura = a making or creating) or frames them according to his countenance. The mind reshapes in the likeness of the friend the “most sweet-fauor or deformedst creature.” While the most monstrous creature (“deformedst” contrasting with “forme” above) is clear, “most sweet-fauor” is not. Either it qualifies “creature,” and then it should be read as ‘most sweet-favoured;’ or it is in opposition to “deformedst creature” and should read “sweet fauor” (‘to find favour in one’s sight’ was a biblical hebraism, as was the “sweete sauour” of an acceptable offering); “sweet” means attractive or shapely (compare Sonnet 114.6, “sweet selfe resemble”) and “fauor” intends a comely figure or countenance (‘the favour of one’s face’ was colloquial and the biblical adage, “Thine eye desireth fauour and beautie” (Ecclus. 40.22; GV) well known). If the poet’s mind’s eye sees the “mountaine,” or the “sea,” or the “day,” or the “night,” or the “Croe,” or the “Doue,” it configures them according to the friend’s shape.

The final couplet, like the preceding sonnet’s, is problematic: attempts have been made to render “mine” as ‘m’eyne,’ but unsatisfactorily as eye is singular through the sonnet. Likewise adding ‘eye’ as in ‘mine eye,’ adds an eleventh syllable to the line – compare the last line of the following sonnet, “mine eye” – and requires that “maketh” become ‘mak’th’ as in ‘mak’th mine eye vntrue.” The line is best left, as in the quarto, with an implied “eye.” Because everything in the poet’s mind’s eye has been reconfigured after the friend, the source of true delineation, and because it can take in no more (“Incapable of more”) and is filled to capacity (“repleat with you”), it has become a “most true minde” (anticipating “the marriage of true mindes,” three sonnets later). It contains no falsehood and shows up his physical eye as an organ that is not right-seeing, but deceptive and inconstant.


113.1. Evans 224.