Sonnet 148

Shakespeare Sonnet 148

O Me! what eyes hath loue put in my head,
Which haue no correſpondence with true ſight,
Or if they haue, where is my iudgement fled,
That cenſures falſely what they ſee aright?
If that be faire whereon my falſe eyes dote,
What meanes the world to ſay it is not ſo?
If it be not, then loue doth well denote,
Loues eye is not ſo true as all mens: no,
How can it? O how can loues eye be true,
That is ſo vext with watching and with teares?
No maruaile then though I miſtake my view,
The ſunne it ſelfe ſees not, till heauen cleeres.
O cunning loue, with teares thou keepſt me blinde,
Leaſt eyes well ſeeing thou foule faults ſhould finde.

Sonnet 148’s opening exclamation, “O Me!” was a cry often associated with the wounded Cupid and a translation of “heu me” (compare Astrophil’s exclamation, “(O mee) that eye / Doth make my hart giue to my tongue a lye”). 1 The repeated exclamation, “O,” and the play on the homophones, ‘eye,’ ‘I’ and ‘aye,’ provide a fescennine subtext of male (erect) and female genitalia to the sonnet, outdone only by Sonnets 135 and 136. The eyes that “loue” (Cupid rather than the poet’s emotion of love) has put into the poet’s head have “no correspondence with true sight.” His “true sight” is that which enables him to discern truth or his reason with which his outer eyes should correspond: George Hakewill in The Vanitie of the eie writes of “the braine . . with which the eie holdes a maruelous correspondence.” 2 Either his eyes have given a distorted impression to the brain, or, if they have given a correct one, then his reason, which wrongly construes (“censures falsely,” without its modern sense of cricticize) what the eyes have seen, must have deserted him.

If that which the poet’s “false eyes” gaze on besottedly (“dote”) is apprehended as “faire,” why does the rest of the world deny it is so? Or, if what they gaze on is not faire, then Cupid well exemplifies (“doth well denote”) that “Loues eye is not so true as all mens: no.” The quarto’s punctuation is problematic. Either the colon remains where it is with an enjambment running over from octet to sestet, “no / How can it?” Or the colon can be removed to the end of the line: “Loues eye is not so true as all mens no: / How can it?” To retain the correspondence with “the world . . say . . not,” “all mens no” is the more likely reading, which also avoids the unusual enjambment between lines 8 to line 9. The poet thus argues that Cupid’s eyes are not as accurate as the negative judgement of all society: the object of the poet’s eye is not fair. As in all the last sonnets there is a play on “eye” and “aye:” Love’s ‘yes’ is less true that the ‘no’ of common judgement.

The repeated question, “How can it?” and “O how can . . ” adds to the poet’s plaintiveness. How can “loues eye be true,” when it is blurred by tiredness or distorted by wet tears (“so vext with watching and with teares”)? The two functions of the eyes are defined by Hakewill as “watching and tears.” 3 It shouldn’t be a cause for wonder (“No maruaile then”) that the poet should mistake what he sees (“mistake my view;” to ‘mistake one’s mark’ was an archery term meaning ‘to shoot awry,’ a habit of Cupid). Even the sun, the eye of heaven, cannot look on the earth, until the wet clouds blocking its vision clear away (“till heauen cleers”).

Cupid is traditionally “cunning” and crafty (“O cunning loue”), but the pun on ‘cunny’ or ‘coney’ (from cunneus = female pudenda or the French con, which Cotgrave reticently translates as “a womans &c.”) was never far from poets’ minds. 4 The couplet’s “thou” is either Cupid, who is traditionally blind, but who here blinds with tears the poet’s eyes, which otherwise (being “well seeing”) would discover love’s “foule faults,” or it is the mistress, of whom there is no other mention in the poem, who, as “cunning loue,” causes the poet’s tears to prevent her “foule faults” from being uncovered.


148.1. Sidney, Astrophil and Stella 47.13-14; see Catullus, Carmina 64.96-97, “heu misere . . sancte puer.”

148.2. Hakewill 93. Hakewill cites the proverb that “lusting for the most parte follows looking” and explains how the “heathens . . leaue the eie to Cupid their God of lust, as being the fittest for his vse, the proverb holding alike in inordinate lust, as in ordinarie loue, out of sight, out of minde” (6).

148.3. Hakewill 9.

148.4. Cotgrave, Dictionarie Con.