Shakespeare Sonnet 137: "Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes"

Updated on January 26, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 137

In sonnet 137, the speaker muses and bemoans the contradictory falsehood that lust engenders between his eyes and his heart. The speaker sees yet he sees not. And through his distorted vision, his heart becomes corrupted.

Sonnet 137

Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes
That they behold, and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be.
If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchor’d in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes’ falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?
Why should my heart think that a several plot
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
In things right true my heart and eyes have err’d,
And to this false plague are they now transferr’d.

Reading of Sonnet 137

Commentary

First Quatrain: Love and Lust

Thou blind fool, Love, what dost thou to mine eyes
That they behold, and see not what they see?
They know what beauty is, see where it lies,
Yet what the best is take the worst to be.

Instead of speaking to his lady-love directly as he usually does in the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker is revealing the falseness and foulness of her character, as he speaks directly to "Love." He is employing the term, "Love," euphemistically; his drama depicting the relationship between his heart and his eyes demonstrates that he is in reality addressing "lust."

The speaker appends his first question, as he often does in this kind of musing. He wishes to know what "Love" does to him to make his eyes not see appropriately. He labels "Love" the "blind fool," as he makes it clear that he is, indeed, the "blind fool." He cannot comprehend that his eyes would betray him; he feels that he is aware of what beauty is, yet when he chances to meet this particular woman, he always manages to become bumfuzzled by her physical beauty.

Second Quatrain: Evil vs Good

If eyes, corrupt by over-partial looks,
Be anchor’d in the bay where all men ride,
Why of eyes’ falsehood hast thou forged hooks,
Whereto the judgment of my heart is tied?

The speaker then begs the logic of "eyes" being placed "in the bay where all men ride," or, he wants to know why should physical appearance to which he has become so favorably drawn render his genitals to flutter in an agitated state. Even more so, he wishes to know why the lie told by his lying eyes is permitted to crook the "judgment of [his] heart."

The speaker is examining the old riddle of the human tendency to want the exact thing that is not beneficial, the very things, which after promising much pleasure and joy, will do the human mind, heart, and soul the most damage.

Third Quatrain: Swayed by Outward Beauty

Why should my heart think that a several plot
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
Or mine eyes, seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?

The speaker continues to muse on these questions: he desires to know why his heart can be moved by a woman who behaves as a contemptible harlot. He wonders why he permits an alluring face that he knows is "foul" to tempt him as if it were a representation of "fair truth."

The speaker is, of course, again supplying answers to his own rhetorical questions, even as he poses them. The conundrum of human behavior always reveals that that behavior swings like a pendulum between evil and good. His eyes see only the outward beauty, while his mind knows otherwise. But his heart has been swayed by the outward beauty even as it senses that such beauty is only skin deep, and the inner person of this wretched woman is full of deceit.

The Couplet: Bamboozled Error

In things right true my heart and eyes have err’d,
And to this false plague are they now transferr’d.

The speaker concludes that his eyes and thus his heart have been bamboozled; therefore, they "have err’d." He leaves the sonnet still distressed in his sickening situation, asserting that his eyes and heart, and therefore his mind, have been afflicted by "this false plague."

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

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