Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sonnet 141 by William Shakespeare

Happy Wednesday! Egad, but I'm tired today. That will not stay me from my appointed course, which is to provide you with a bit o' the Bard. Today's choice is Sonnet 141 ("In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes"), one of the "Dark Mistress" sonnets that has something in common (I think) with the better-known Sonnet 130 ("My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun"): In both poems, Shakespeare is saying that he sees the person as they truly are, not as a romanticized ideal, and loves them anyway. Awwwwww. Only he's saying it in such a back-handed, sassy way that I once again submit that I believe the Dark Mistress poems were the ones publicly known prior to publication of the entire pack of sonnets, and that they were performance pieces of sorts - a way of showing off amongst peers. Not that I have research to back it up, but it SO makes sense.

Sonnet 141
by William Shakespeare

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 unswayed 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.

Form: Shakespearean sonnet, a term indicating it's written in iambic pentamter and rhymed ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Iambic pentameter: Pentameter means five poetic feet per line; iambic indicates that the poetic foot in question is the iamb, a two-syllable foot composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one: taDUM.

Discussion: Just as the rhyme scheme can be broken into sections, so can the poem. In the first quatrain (four lines), Shakespeare says (in essence) "Well, it's certainly not your looks for which I love you, because I see a bunch of things wrong with you". In the second quatrain, he continues in kind: "It's not your voice either, nor your touch, taste or smell that make me want to get close to you." (Truly, he is not at all complimentary here!) In the third quatrain comes the turn, where he goes from enumeration of the particular ways in which he finds the woman unattractive to a bigger-picture issue: despite all that, he's her servant. He says neither his five wits nor his five senses (more on that below) can persuade his heart not to love her and to dedicate himself to her; his body is hers to command. In the final couplet, which turns further still, with a double meaning: on the one hand, he says that the woman who thus plagues him and causes him to sin punishes his sin with pain (a variation on the "pay to play" notion, I suppose, or to the Christian idea that punishment or penance be imposed for sin); on the other hand, he says that the love he feels for the woman causes him pain (possibly because she withholds herself from him, a convention of poetry at that time).

Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, eh, Will?

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