Sonnet 47

Shakespeare Sonnet 47

BEtwixt mine eye and heart a league is tooke,
And each doth good turnes now vnto the other,
When that mine eye is famiſht for a looke,
Or heart in loue with ſighes himſelfe doth ſmother;
With my loues picture then my eye doth feaſt,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart:
An other time mine eye is my hearts gueſt,
And in his thoughts of loue doth ſhare a part.
So either by thy picture or my loue,
Thy ſeife away, are preſent ſtill with me,                                selfe (Bodmer)
For thou nor farther then my thoughts canſt moue,                noe
And I am ſtill with them, and they with thee.
Or if they ſleepe, thy picture in my ſight
Awakes my heart, to hearts and eyes delight.

Sonnet 47 follows on from Sonnet 46’s decision in law to apportion the sight of the beloved to both eye and heart. Like Sonnet 24 it draws, though to a lesser degree, on the conceit of the heart as a camera obscura, in which paintings are wrought (see Sonnet 24 for further detail). Subsequent to Sonnet 46’s judgement a pact (“league”) has been struck between the contending parties. A “league” customarily ended hostilities, but was used too of a covenant, particularly a marriage covenant, in whose mutual grace partners do each other good turns. Culmann in his Sententiae pueriles renders, “Gratia gratiam parit,” (‘A grace begets a grace’) as the proverb, “One good turne deserues another.” 1 Once the league is entered into, the eye and heart do “good turnes now vnto the other” (compare Sonnet 24.9, “Now see what good-turnes eyes for eies haue done”). When the eye is starved of the beloved’s sight (“famisht for a looke”) or when the “heart in loue” suffocates itself (“smother”) in tearful sighs, then the eye can look into the heart as into a camera or “closet” (Sonnet 46.6), which before the “league” could not be “pearst” by eyes, and “feast” on a picture of the beloved (“my loues picture”). The blinded heart is in turn invited (“bid”) by the eye to feast on the “painted banquet,” the representation of the youth which the eye has assumed. Conversely the poet’s eye can in turn be a guest of the heart and, beholding the beloved’s image there, can “share a part” in the heart’s “thoughts of loue.”

Either way, through the picture of the beloved contained in the eye or the thoughts of love in the heart, the beloved, though absent (“Thy selfe away”), is still present to the poet. (The quarto has “are” which Shakespeare on occasion uses for “art” before a consonant; the correct “selfe” is only found in the Bodmer copy.) He is distant from the poet only to the extent that he is distant from the poet’s thoughts, which, Sonnets 44 and 45 have already shown, are like “slight air” and not subject to space. 2 The poet remains with his thoughts of love and they, free of place, dwell with the beloved (“And I am still with them and they with thee”). The couplet accommodates a last contingency, “Or if they sleepe:” if the heart’s thoughts were to be subject to slumber, then the beloved’s representation in the poet’s eye would arouse (“Awakes”) the heart to the “delight” of both heart and eyes.


47.1. Leonhard Culmann, Sententiae Pueriles, Translated Grammatically: Leading the Learner, as by the hand, to construe right, parse, and make the same Latine; also to get both matter and phrase, most speedily and surely, without inconuenience (London: H. L[ownes, 1612) 7.

47.2. Sonnet 44.7-8, “For nimble thought can iumpe both sea and land, / As soone as thinke the place where he would be.”