Friday, February 13, 2009

Do The Eyes Have It?

I’m a pretty big believer in that whole “eyes are the windows to the soul” thing.  Ask me if there’s beauty in a person, and I’ll look at the eyes first.  Does that make me an eye man?  Ain’t nothing in the world like a big-eye’d girl, as the song goes…;)

But let’s talk Shakespeare.  When I picked Sonnet 17 to be “our” sonnet (that being my wife and I, not you my dear reader), it was this one line that stood out: 

If I could write the beauty in your eyes, and in fresh numbers number all your graces, the age to come would say “This poet lies, such heavenly touches never touched earthly faces.”

(Yes I was lazy with the syntax of the original there.)

For Valentine’s this year, on the card for my wife’s roses, I wrote this:

The bath for my help lies where Cupid got new fire – my mistress’ eyes.

That’s from Sonnet 154.

Then of course there’s the famous sonnet 130, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”

I’m at work and don’t really have time to write a small novel on the subject, so I thought I’d throw it out there for discussion – were eyes a particular theme of Shakespeare’s more so than other things?  Am I just seeing what I want to see?  I went combing through the sonnets last night and actually found him referring to his own eyes (most often in the context of “I get to see how beautiful you are”), but very often he does speak of “thine eyes” or “mistress’ eyes” and so on.


I figure Carl’s going to have some input (and tell me to read his book :)).  Anybody else?  Don’t be shy.


Irene L. Pynn said...

Nice quotes! The very first line of my favorite sonnet mentions eyes:
"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes..."

Am I terrible to plug my own book here? :) But, wait! There's a reason:

From Light to Dark is a fantasy based on the Romeo and Juliet theme. For a good portion of the book, one of my characters is blind. That's something I took on as a personal writing challenge, and I found that it said a lot about the character himself. The fact that the window to his soul was blocked in a way (at least on his side) definitely did things to his personality that wouldn't have made any sense otherwise.

Wasn't it Shakespeare who perhaps first used the term "mind's eye" in Hamlet? I think that says a lot about the Bard's opinion of the connection between a person and his/her eyes.

catkins said...

Eyes were important not only to Shakespeare, but to all sonneteers. Here is Petrarch:
"It was the day the sun himself grew pale/ with grieving for his Maker--I was seized/ and make no effort to defend myself;/ your lovely eyes had held and bound me, Lady." (Canzoniere 4)
The word "eye" (or its plural) occurs 92 times in The Sonnets, 47 times in "Venus and Adonis", 74 times in "The Rape of Lucrece" and 994 time in the plays. So, yes, I would say that eyes were a particular theme of Shakespeare's.
There are many other beautiful references in The Sonnets, such as 43 "When most I winke then doe mine eyes best see" and 24: "Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath stell'd,/ Thy beauties forme in table of my heart."
There are also some powerful negative images carried by eyes in the Dark Lady sonnets. Sonnet 148 ends: "O cunning love, with teares thou keepst me blinde,/ Least eyes well seeing thy foule faults should finde." (Note: "Least" means and is pronounced "lest.") And the next, Sonnet 149 ends with this couplet: "But love hate on for now I know thy minde,/ Those that can see thou lov'st, and I am blind."
Love and hate, intermixed, both through the same transparent organs deeply connected to the soul.
Duane, are you angling for a free copy of my book?