Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath stell'd
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,
And perspective it is the painter's art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured lies;
Which in my bosom's shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art;
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.
XXIV. Instead of the figurative exchange of hearts in xxii.,
the poet's breast is now a painter's studio, and his heart a tablet on
which his sight has portrayed the form of his friend. And the
poet is so truthful and sincere that the windows of his breast are
the eyes of his friend, to whom the poet's heart is thus fully revealed.
The concluding couplet would seem to indicate a doubt whether
the friend's heart has been revealed with equal clearness.
1. Stell'd. Q. "steeld," the form of which maybe right. To "steel"
is possibly, as I think the Rev. W. A. Harrison suggested, to write with
a steel point or stylus; and so the word may come to have a more general
sense of portraying or depicting. Cf. however, Lucrece, 1444, "To find
a face where all distress is stell'd" (Q. "steld"), meaning evidently
"portrayed" or "depicted." We cannot, however, infer from "held,"
line 3 in this Sonnet, that "stell'd" is the true form in line 1, pronunciation having so considerably changed.
8. The frame. That is, of the picture, or just possibly the painting-frame, or easel. Cf. T. Watson, Teares of Fancie (1593), Sonnet 46:
"My Mistris seeing her faire counterfet
So sweetelie framed in my bleeding brest:
On it her fancie shee so fermelie set,
Thinking her selfe for want of it distrest."
4. Perspective. As used here, the meaning of the word appears to be
"capability of being looked through." But though this may be the sense
immediately intended, there is a reference also to the ordinary employment of the word in relation to pictorial art, whether with respect to the representation of distance, or of a picture so designed as to require
to be looked at obliquely. Cf. Richard II., Act ii. sc. 2, line 18 seq.:
"Like perspectives, which, rightly gazed upon,
Show nothing but confusion; ey'd awry
5. Through the painter, &c. In the sense mentioned above. But there
is probably an allusion, also, to the general necessity of taking the position
occupied by an artist in painting a picture, so as to see, as it were, with
11. Are windows -- where-through the sun. Notice the additional proof
of sincerity. Not only are the friend's eyes windows to the poet's breast,
seeing everything within, but the sun himself can look through.
14. Know not the heart. Intimating possibly a suspicion in accordance
with the last lines of xxii.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 22 Dec. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/24.html >.
Immortality in verse... Sonnet 55 is one of Shakespeare's most famous works and a noticeable deviation from other sonnets in which he appears insecure about his relationships and his own self-worth. Here we find an impassioned burst of confidence as the poet claims to have the power to keep his friend's memory alive evermore. Read on....