“In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,/For they in thee a thousand errors note;”

Shakespeare Sonnet #141

SONNET 141

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 hearts slave and vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

SONNET 141

PARAPHRASE

.

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,

In truth, I do not love you with my eyes,

For they in thee a thousand errors note;

For they note a thousand faults in you;

But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise,

But it is my heart that loves what my eyes dislike,

Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;

Which, despite what it sees, continues to dote over you;

Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s tune delighted,

Nor our mine ears delighted by the sound of your voice,

Nor tender feeling, to base touches prone,

Nor will my sense of feeling respond to just anyone’s touch,

Nor taste, nor smell, desire to be invited

Nor do my senses of taste or smell desire to be invited

To any sensual feast with thee alone:

To any sensual feast with you and you alone.

But my five wits nor my five senses can

But my five wits nor my five senses can

Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,

Persuade my foolish heart not to serve you,

Who leaves unsway’d the likeness of a man,

Who leaves only the likeness of a man

Thy proud hearts slave and vassal wretch to be:

To be your proud heart’s slave and vassal.

Only my plague thus far I count my gain,

Only in this do I consider my love-sickness to my advantage,

That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

She that makes me sin determines my punishment.

 

ANALYSIS

sensual feast (8): a feast of the senses.

alone (8): in private.

five wits (9): here means the poet’s intellect, including wit and memory.

Who…man (11): As T.G. Tucker points out in his edition of the Sonnets, “leaves unswayed’ means “not = so that I become the slave, etc., but = abandons the (mere) semblance of a man and so leaves it without its natural controller, in order (itself) to become your proud heart’s slave. It is his heart that becomes the vassal of hers, while he becomes the mere ‘likeness of a man'” (The Sonnets of Shakespeare, 221).

Here, as in so many of the Sonnets, we see that the poet’s relationship with the dark lady is based on sensual pleasure and infatuation, rather than deep understanding and intellectual stimulation. Those more lofty needs are met through the relationship he has with his male lover, likely the Earl of Southampton. The poet again stresses that his mistress is anything but beautiful, and thus the joy he receives from her cannot be aesthetic. This leads to an important question: what about his mistress does the poet find so appealing? It appears that even the poet himself does not have an adequate answer. She clearly gratifies him, but that gratification ultimately does not make him happy. And he delights in her ‘punishment’ only out of some deep perversion of his own feelings and judgment. In the final analysis, his relationship with the dark lady is troubling and symbolic of the poet’s own lack of self-worth.

And this:

The poet runs through a catalogue of the senses, to see what it is that attracts him to his mistress. In fact he finds nothing, and therefore concludes that it must be some perverseness in his heart that forces him to love her and to be her slave. His reward is that she gives him penances for the sin he is committing in loving her.

 The poem is thought to rely heavily on ‘The Banquet of the Senses’, an allegorical story based on Ovid. But it has other antecedents as well, and one should not overlook the fact that it is almost a continuation sonnet to 130,

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
for in that sonnet the appeal is made to the senses of sight ( colour of lips, teeth, flesh etc.), hearing (the sound of her voice), smell (reek of her breath), and possibly taste (lips), none of which are enraptured by what they find. There are also other examples in the literature which run through a similar catalogue of the senses, and I have included a sonnet below by William Smith. It is much more conventional than this one of Shakespeare’s, in that the beloved has all the beauteous characteristics expected, for, even though they are not detailed, they are such as to give him exquisite pleasure, and the amber breath and crystal eyes stand in place of the usual coral, snow, pearls, ivory and gold with which Venus had bedecked the beloved. I have also included a short extract from Barnabe Barnes’s Parthenophil and Parthenophe which I take to be relevant.

There is therefore an element of parody in this sonnet of Shakespeare’s, as there was in the equivalent sonnet 130. For that reason it brings us down to earth with a bump, for it tears us away from the tortured conceits of the sonneteers, and perhaps from our own idealisations of the beings we love, and forces us to accept that the things we love often have an earthly and earthy beauty, much less than a divine one. For we also know that love is a power beyond rationality, and that it does not depend on the beloved being made of coral, or ivory, or rubies, but of flesh and blood with all its imperfections. The falseness lies in worshipping humans as if they were all Venuses and Adonises. The poet here finds himself perplexed that the woman he loves does not appeal to his five senses, as the tradition of sonneteering insists that she must, and yet he still loves and desires her.

For a parallel and more light hearted folk tradition of love, a blessed relief from the tortured conventions of the sonneteers, I have included at the end of the page an Elizabethan ballad which sings of Love attacking the defences of a maiden.

From Chloris,

  That day wherein mine eyes cannot see her,
Which is the essence of their crystal sight ;
Both blind, obscure and dim that day they be,
And are debarrèd of fair heaven’s light.
  That day wherein mine ears do want to hear her ;
Hearing, that day is from me quite bereft.
That day wherein to touch I come not near her ;
That day no sense of touching have I left.
  That day wherein I lack the fragrant smell,
Which from her pleasant amber breath proceedeth ;
Smelling, that day, disdains with me to dwell.
Only weak hope, my pining carcase feedeth.
  But burst, poor heart! Thou hast no better hope,
  Since all thy senses have no further scope.    

Chloris 38. W. Smith, 1596.

From Parthenophil & Parthenophe

    O kiss! that did all sense exceed!
No man can speak those joys! then Muse, be mute!
  But say! for sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch,
  In any one thing, was there ever such?

P&P.Madrigal16. Barnabe Barnes 1593.

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And from David West:

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.                         4

Nor are mine ears with thy tongue’s delighted,

Nor tender feeling to base touches prone,

Nor taste, nor smell desire to be invited

To any sensual feast with thee alone.                                 8

But my five wits not my five senses can

Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee,

Who leaves unswayed the likeness of a man,

Thy proud heart’s slave and vassal wretch to be.              12

Only my plague thus far I count my gain,

That she who makes me sin awards me pain.

My eyes see your blemishes. My heart dotes on what they despise.

Neither ears, touch, nor smell, have any wish to feast alone with you.

But my five wits and five senses cannot dissuade my heart from leaving me,

  to become your heart’s slave.

My only profit is that she who makes me sin awards me pain.

 

1-4  The poem starts with a blunt statement in monosyllables, and personification heightens the drama. Eyes are persons in 2, and in 3 heart dotes on the Black Lady despite her. Heart is a doting fool.

5-8  Then four new characters take the stage – hearing, touch, taste and smell. Ears take no pleasure from the music of her speaking voice, mimed in the jangle ‘thy tongue’s tune delighted.’ Line 6 offers a cameo of an erotic scene. The Black Lady applies base touches but feeling is not ‘tender,’ not sensitive to them. She failed, as Venus failed when she tried to charm Adonis in The Passionate Pilgrim 4.7-8. ‘To win his heart she touched him here and there: /Touches so soft still conquer chastity.’ Taste and smell are not averse to feasts but neither of them would wish to be invited to go to a banquet of the senses tete-a-tete with her. The last word, ‘alone,’ says it all. This is a comic vignette in eight lines with a dozen characters. Personification is flagged in line 4 by heart, Who is pleased to dote, and Who in line 11 defies ten sage advisors and leaves to become a slave.

9-12  [Neither] his five wits nor his five senses can dissuade heart. The senses have been dealt with in 1-8. ‘Bless thy five wits,’ raves Edgar in King Lear 3.4.54. They were listed by Stephen Hawes in the Passetyme of Pleasure (1509), chapter 24, as common wit (which Booth (1977) explains as common sense), imagination, fantasy, estimation and memory. These five terms are also defined in Batman in Bartholomew (1582), cited by Burrow (2002).

In line 10 heart leaves to become the vassal slave of the Black Lady, a condition S has already experienced back in Sonnet 133, and under the young man in Sonnets 57-8. What heart leaves behind is not a man, but only the likeness of a man, ‘unswayed,’ under no way, with no heart to govern it. After ‘thy proud heart’ in 140.14 the pride of her heart in 141.12 is no surprise, and her pride is confirmed in 144.8. The young man is never said to be proud (129.2).

13-14  The only advantage of this plague is that the woman who makes him sin rewards him with pain. Samuel Butler explains, ‘I shall suffer less for my sin hereafter, for I receive some of the punishment coincidentally with the offence.’ After the end of his great love for the young man and his infatuation with the Black Lady, S has a tendency to drift bitterly towards religion. Sin is the pivot which links 141.14 to 142.1, and 144 and 146 are based on Christian thinking.

Booth (1977) ends his note on this poem with a long study of the ‘eye and heart poems,’ 24, 46-7, 93, 137 and 139-41. Is this sonnet simply another exercise of invention, or is it the experience of a man totally in thrall to a woman without receiving any pleasure of the sense or of the mind, but still coming back for more?

Evans (1996) surprised by referring to the suggestion in Vendler (1997), reproduced at the end of the commentary on 137, that ‘plague’ is ‘a play on Latin plaga (= wound), from which ‘plague’ is derived, and that ‘wound’ may be taken as a metaphor for vulva’ or the vagina. Burrow has a similar approach to 141.13, ‘There is also a jaunty ‘who cares if I got VD? It was fun’ struggling somewhere in there.’”

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And finally this, from Harold Bloom:

“One of my students observed in class discussion some years ago that many of the Sonnets depend upon Shakespeare narrating his own sufferings and humiliations as though they were someone else’s. Yes and no, I recall replying, since they are never presented as though indeed they were painful and debasing. Unless Shakespeare prophesied Nietzsche’s ‘That which does not destroy me strengthens me,’ we are given a reticence preternaturally reliant upon the exclusion of pathos.  And yet the rhetoric of the Sonnets is not Ovidian-Marlovian.

The most illuminating essay on this that I have read is Thomas M. Greene’s ‘Pitiful Thrivers: Failed Husbandry in the Sonnets’ (1984). Here is Greene’s poignant conclusion:

‘The Sonnets can be read to the end as attempts to cope with progressively powerful and painful forms of cost and expense. The bourgeois desire to balance cosmic and human budgets seems to be thwarted by a radical flaw in the universe, in emotion, in value, and in language. This flaw is already acted out at the beginning by the onanistic friend who ‘feed’st thy lights flame with selfe substantiall fewell’ (1). In Sonnet 73, the metaphoric fire lies in its ashes as on a deathbed, ‘consum’d with that which it was nurrisht by.’ This becomes, in the terrible Sonnet 129, ‘a bliss in proofe and proud and very wo,’ a line always, unnecessarily, emended. The vulnerability of the Sonnets lies in their ceaselessly resistant reflection of this flaw, their stubborn reliance on economies incapable of correcting it, their use of language so wealthy, so charged with ‘difference,’ as to be erosive. The vulnerability of the Sonnets might be said to resemble that nameless flaw that afflicts their speaker, but in their case the flaw is not disastrous. They are not consumed by the extravagant husbandry that produced them. Their effort to resist, to compensate, to register in spite of slippage, balances their loss with store. They leave us with the awesome cost, and reward, of their conative contention. The vulnerability is inseparable from the striving that leads us to them: the ‘poet’s’ expense and Shakespeare’s expense.’

Emerson’s Gnostic observation – ‘There is a crack in everything that God has made’ – is akin to Greene’s ‘radical flaw in the universe, in emotion, in value, and in language. But that is Hamlet’s cosmos, and Lear’s, and Macbeth’s. The more than overwhelming force of the major tragedies is circumvented in the Sonnets, except perhaps for the death march of 129, and the Desire is death’ litany of 147, to me the most terrifying erotic poem I know. Once again, what compelled (if that is the right word) Shakespeare to hold back?

Only the force of Shakespeare’s own mind could defend it from itself. Shakespeare, almost all deep readers agree, excelled in intellectual power, wisdom, and linguistic vitality, but the three together are surpassed by his rarest gift: the creation of personalities. People is the word I prefer, though that restarts wearisome arguments. Even Cervantes and Tolstoy are not that prodigal at repopulating a heterocosm.

Of the two intensely erotic relationships in the Sonnets, each may be at least a doubling (Southampton and Pembroke,  Mary Fitton and Emilia Bassano Lanier and Lucy Negro). Even the Rival Poet may be a tripling (Chapman, Jonson, Marlowe), which would be less provocative than the strong possibility that both the Fair Young Nobleman and the Dark Lady are composites. Many if not most of realize in retrospect that a lifetime’s attachments tend to arrange themselves into recurrent patterns. Fusion re-imagines erotic singularities, however intense and long lingering, and makes them seem only fictions of duration, uneasily akin to poems and literary narratives.

Greene’s emphasis upon fluctuations in value is cruelly sustained by the language of trade and economy in the Sonnets. Is that language consistently ironic? I think not, though an ironist so towering as Shakespeare works beyond our ken. Sonnet 87 – ‘Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing’ – upon which I have attempted to found a poetics of influence, piles up an extraordinary heap of commercial diction endless paradoxical in its referential power: ‘dear,’ ‘possessing,’ ‘estimate,’ ‘charter,’ ‘worth,’ ‘releasing,’ ‘bonds,’ ‘determinate,’ ‘granting,’ ‘riches,’ ‘deserving,’ ‘gift,’ ‘wanting,’ ‘patent,’ ‘swerving,’ ‘gav’st,’ ‘mistaking,’ ‘misprision,’ ‘growing.’ Those twenty words are packed into the first eleven lines of the poem: is this the feared end or an erotic or of a financial partnership? There is a tradition that Shakespeare produced his share in the Lord Chamberlain’s company of actors with a thousand pounds borrowed from his patron, the earl of Southampton.

The creator of Hamlet trades in the commodity of what Emerson was to call ‘the great and creative self.’ The dramatist of Falstaff and Hamlet, Iago and Cleopatra transcends any pragmatics of self-reliance. And yet the poet of the Sonnets engages himself in so Proustian a quest for small and large evidences of betrayal and devaluation that we might recall the more comic sorrows of Swann and Marcel, except that Shakespeare does go through all this for a man and a woman who surprisingly did suit him and evidently were authentically his style and mode.

Shakespeare’s erotic vision in the comic sphere concludes in Measure for Measure, while in tragedy it culminated in Timon of Athens. The late tragicomedies (they are not romances) flame out in the jealous madness of Leontes and the stance beyond detachment of Propsero. In the Sonnets, Shakespeare reveals nothing of his own personality while rendering both the Fair Young Nobleman and the Dark lady sexual minefields. As readers we might murmur that they deserve one another, a judgment that is alien to Shakespeare. And yet the surprising misogyny provoked by his Dark lady (a stance nowhere evident in the plays) is not justified by him, and his endless celebrations of the Fair Young Nobleman do not bring forward a single good quality in that lethal spoiled aristocrat. Southampton/Pembroke is merely beautiful while Mary/Emilia/Lucy is a furnace, prophetic of Lady Emma Hamilton’s Electric Bed, which became Admiral Horatio Nelson’s Promised Land aboard the Victory.

Even in the Sonnets we are allowed our own perspectives but always at the risk of exposing ourselves while the poet remains sequestered. No one except the narrator of the Sonnets is capable of any affection for the Fairy Young Nobleman, but I hardly know a male reader who does not share my lust for the Dark Lady. No other love poem in the English language has an affect as grim as Sonnet 147:

My love is as a fever, longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease,

Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,

Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.

 

My reason, the physician to my love,

Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,

Hath left me, and I desperate now approve

Desire is death, which physic did except.

 

Past cure I am, now reason is past care,

And frantic mad with evermore unrest;

My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,

At random from the truth vainly expressed:

 

For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,

Who are as black as hell, as dark as night.

Falling in love with an illness of the self, near enough to a sickness-unto-death, is to drive beyond the pleasure principle. I cannot recall any mention of the features of the beloved young man, but am all too aware that the mistress’ eyes are raven black, doubtless like those two pitch balls stuck in Rosaline’s face in Love’s Labour’s Lost. Whatever Shakespeare’s relation to Southampton or to Pembroke (or to both) it was temperance itself when compared to the furnace of the Dark Lady (or Ladies.) ‘Desire is death’: so grand a finale of seem achieves perfection neither of the work nor of the life. For a moment only, the poet-narrator joins himself to Iago and to Edmund.

Do the ‘pitiful thrivers’ of Sonnet 125 exist in the same cosmos that commences two sonnets later? The language of expense, bonds, usury prevails, yet the trade more clearly is erotic, not commercial. Of the Dark Lady, Greene ventures that she ‘perhaps is the one thriver in the work who is not pitiful.’

No one would defend the ‘loyalties’ of the Sonnets, but since they have no world-without-end bargains is there warrant for terming their bargains ‘tawdry’? No valid promises were made, no pledges enacted, among this triangle. No one emerges in a posture other than prone. Except for the Stony Rimes of Dante, no other ‘love poems’ are so finally forbidding.”

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My next post:  Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning, my introduction to Coriolanus.

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5 Responses to “In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,/For they in thee a thousand errors note;”

  1. Mahood says:

    That clip from ’10 Things I Hate About You’ … I can’t believe I’m writing this, but…it kind of worked.

    The Sonnets of the Bard rapped…successfully – who’d have thought?

    • That’s why he’s Shakespeare I guess. So Mahood — what was your take on “Pericles?”

      • Mahood says:

        To be honest, I wasn’t as ‘pleasantly surprised’ by it as I was by ‘Timon of Athens’ … ‘Pericles’ really is very scrappy in parts – though, like you Dennis, I’m willing (with a reread) to give the Bard the benefit of the doubt: I’d like to go with Tanner, Garber and Wilson Knight’s take on this and think that there really is something else going on in this play.

        But there were problems. To take just one example, I found Marina’s ‘virginal fencing’ (as Bawd calls it), totally laughable. How she kept her virginity intact (both in the brothel, and with the pirates in the earlier scene), just wasn’t believable … surely rape (to put it very bluntly), would have solved this ‘problem’ (from a writer’s point of view). I found GGG’s comment on this (in a previous post) very interesting – I really didn’t have a problem with the ‘creepy’ aspects that GGG alluded to – to me, it wasn’t ‘creepy’ (or sinister) enough (!) … a male/female perspective, perhaps?

        But then there were lines that did make me laugh (for the right reasons): for example, from the Bawd again, talking about Marina: ‘she would make a puritan of the devil if he should cheapen a kiss of her’.

        And finally, the link made by a few critics between Pericles and Lear was also fascinating (and for me, fairly plausible).

      • Mahood: That’s one of the things I wonder about — are we willing to give plays like “Pericles” the benefit of the doubt, to look for signs of greatness that (maybe) aren’t there because it’s Shakespeare? (And conversely, if the play had been written, let’s say entirely by some little known Elizabethan playwright would anyone be paying it the least attention?)

        And of course, Marina kept her honor…um…intact, because…well, it’s a fairy tale/romance (although Bloom, as we’ll see strongly dislikes that term.)

  2. cricketmuse says:

    The Dark Lady sonnets do fascinate. Was this a real or imagined relationship? We’ll speculate our selves to distraction, won’t we? I do appreciate the thorough explication. I look forward to other sonnet take downs.
    Blue Skies,
    CM

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