Shakespeare Sonnet 141: "In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes"

Updated on February 8, 2018
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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

Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 141

The speaker’s attitude toward the beauty of the "dark lady" has dramatically changed in sonnet 141; until now, he has complained heartily about his bewitchment by the lady’s dark beauty and its fatal attraction for him. Now, he throws all that to the wind. However, sonnet 130 gives a foreshadowing of this attitude.

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 pleas’d 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.

Reading of Sonnet 141

Commentary

The speaker taunts the "dark lady" demeaning her looks, decrying her ability to attract him physically, yet insisting that he foolishly remains in her clutches.

First Quatrain: Not So Easy on the Eyes

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 pleas’d to dote.

The speaker addresses the mistress again, telling her that, in fact, she is not really that easy on the eyes, and his eyes detect "a thousand errors" in her appearance. But even as his eyes "despise" what they see, his "heart" loves her "despite of view." And therefore he is "pleas’d to dote" on her.

This change of heart could merely be a ploy, just another attempt to curtail the woman’s infidelity. He might be trying to break her hold on him. Knowing that she is vain about her appearance as well as her personality, he is probably trying to employ reverse psychology to make her more attentive to him. If she thinks he does not really care so much for her looks, he might dump her before she can dump him.

Second Quatrain: Not so Pleasing to the Senses

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:

The speaker then continues his denigration of the woman’s attributes. He does not even care that much for the sound of her voice. As a matter of fact, he tells her, she does not particularly please any of his senses. In sonnet 130, he demonstrated how she did not compare favorably with a goddess, but now he notes that she does not compare well with other women. His senses of hearing, touch, taste, and smell are as unmoved by her as his sense of sight is.

Third Quatrain: Reduced to Less Than a Man

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:

Despite the negative knowledge communicated to him by his five senses, his "foolish heart" cannot stop itself "from serving [her]." Because he has become her love slave, he hardly still resembles "the likeness of a man." He is a "vassal wretch" and not a man at all.

The Couplet: The Pain of Sin

Only my plague thus far I count my gain,
That she that makes me sin awards me pain.

All he receives from this relationship is a "plague." She motivates him to sin, and all he gets out of it "pain." He is taunting her, as he feigns his displeasure with your looks, but he is also quite serious as he bemoans the lustful relationship in which he seems to be inexorably tangled.

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.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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