Tuesday, April 21, 2009

In Faith I Do Not Love Thee With Mine Eyes

When I’m really bored and looking for content I skim the sonnets.  This time it is #141 that caught my eye, in particular it’s similarities to the famous #130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”):


In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who, in despite of view, is pleased to dote.
Nor are mine ears with thy tongue's tune delighted;
Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,
Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited
To any sensual feast with thee alone:
But my five wits nor my five senses can
Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,
Who leaves unsway'd the likeness of a man,
Thy proud heart's slave and vassal wretch to be:
  Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
  That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

Most of this sonnet seems to go over similar themes about the gap between physical qualities and emotional attachment.  The poet’s explaining that it’s not her looks – he could pick out 1000 things wrong with her.  Nor is it the sound of her voice (makes you think that “music hath a much more pleasing sound” straight out of 130), or her smell.   It seems downright rude to say “I’d rather not be in the same room alone with you, stinky.”

But yet nothing in his five senses can stop him from becoming completely entranced by her, transforming into a shell of his former self (“likeness of a man”). 

Here’s where I get lost, though – the final couplet.  I count my gain that she that makes me sin awards me pain?  So she *makes* him sin, which sounds like a bad thing, and she “awards” him pain, which also sounds like a bad thing, and yet he counts this his gain?

Somebody enlighten me.  Preferably without getting into a debate about ink splotches on the original page. :)


Anonymous said...

I think the sin is that he finds her unattractive in every way. The plague is the woman and her love, the pain is that she loves him the way he is, and he thinks that he doesn't deserve her, because he can't love her in the same way.

catkins said...

Here is the commentary from my book on the last line:

WALKER (1860, 3:365) reads “paine” (line 14) “in the old etymological sense of punishment.” Willen and Reed compare “on pain of death.” This suggests the expiation of guilt, i.e., penance (so Tucker 1924), rather than the masochism that Vendler and others read here. Ingram and Redpath cite Samuel Butler’s paraphrase: “I shall suffer less for my sin hereafter, for I get some of the punishment coincidently with the offence.” Vendler objects that this implies a concern with “Christian doctrine about a personal afterlife” elsewhere absent in The Sonnets. But afterlife is not the concern, it is the punishment of sin that is important. This is a biblical injunction, and the Bible underlies much of Elizabethan thought and permeates the Shakespeare canon. Fornication is sin, sin must be punished, therefore to be punished for fornication is good. Brian Gibbons reads “intense bitterness” in this paradox (as per Evans). I read a trite convention deftly transformed into a moral. Instead of a mournful troubadour seeking requital for his love we find a sinner seeking redemption. The intensely personal tone of this sonnet keeps it from being moralistic. We are not told what is right or wrong, we simply feel the speaker’s pain as proof of the wisdom of biblical judgment.

Duane said...

"Fornication is sin, sin must be punished, therefore to be punished for fornication is good. Brian Gibbons reads “intense bitterness” in this paradox (as per Evans). I read a trite convention deftly transformed into a moral."

So let me see if I've got that -- he considers himself a sinner. For what specifically I'm not sure this sonnet says, though certainly lust seems a pretty obvious guess (I'm not sure where fornication comes in, unless you lift it from other sonnets.) So he knows he's sinned, and knows he's to be punished. So the fact that she treats him cruelly (in whatever way) he looks at as paying his penance, and thus he's glad for it?

I think that actually makes sense. Thanks! :)

catkins said...

Fornication comes from the context--it is generally what a "he" has been doing when he complains that a "she" has made him sin.

Willshill said...

So by "...a trite convention deftly transformed into a moral." and "...she has made him sin.", might we say that the message, without saying it in so many words, echoes the Bible even more specifically? The Sin is the Original one, and Eve is still the One at fault?