Shakespeare Sonnet 148: "O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head"

Updated on April 6, 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

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

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 148

Sonnet 148 has the speaker speculating again about the disparity between his "eyes" and his brain. He avers that his "judgment" has abandoned him because his eyes continue to deceive him: he sees beauty that allures him, but beneath the skin of that beauty lie "foul faults."

Sonnet 148

O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head
Which have no correspondence with true sight;
Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?
If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
If it be not, then love doth well denote
Love’s eye is not so true as all men’s: no.
How can it? O! how can Love’s eye be true,
That is so vex’d with watching and with tears?
No marvel then, though I mistake my view;
The sun itself sees not till heaven clears.
O cunning Love! with tears thou keep’st me blind,
Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find.

Reading of Sonnet 148

Commentary

The sonneteer has come to end of his ability to explore new themes in his sonnet sequence: he is now rehashing the disparity between what he sees and what is there.

First Quatrain: Deceptive Eyes

O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head
Which have no correspondence with true sight;
Or, if they have, where is my judgment fled,
That censures falsely what they see aright?

In sonnet 141, the speaker begins, "In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes / For they in thee a thousand errors note." And in sonnet 148, once again, he is broaching the subject of the deception of his "eyes": "O me! what eyes hath Love put in my head / Which have no correspondence with true sight."

He then conjectures that if his eyes are seeing correctly, then his discernment is gone, leaving him unable to distinguish right from wrong, error from accuracy, moral from immoral. In sonnet 141, he blames his lack of discrimination on his "heart," while in sonnet 148, he simply condemns his ability to think clearly.

Second Quatrain: False Eyes

If that be fair whereon my false eyes dote,
What means the world to say it is not so?
If it be not, then love doth well denote
Love’s eye is not so true as all men’s: no.

The speaker continues examining the possibility that his eyes simply do not see what is before him. He again tries to rationalize his feelings by comparison to what others think.

If his "false eyes" see correctly, and his lady is truly "fair," then others have to be sitting in false judgment. However, if what he sees is, in fact, tainted, then his eyes are "not so true as all men’s." He then reinforces the negative that he has come to believe with the simple negation, "no."

Third Quatrain: Troubled Eyes

How can it? O! how can Love’s eye be true,
That is so vex’d with watching and with tears?
No marvel then, though I mistake my view;
The sun itself sees not till heaven clears.

The speaker then questions, "How can it?," which he extends for clarification, "O! how can Love’s eye be true, / That is so vex’d with watching and with tears?" Reasoning that because his eyes are troubled by what he sees the woman do and then by the fact that he cries tears that blind his vision, he compares his eyes to the "sun" which "sees not till heaven clears."

By using his reason, he has determined that he could not possibly be seeing his mistress in all her reality because not only is his heart lead astray but his very eyesight in literally distorted from the real tears he sheds over the strained relationship.

The Couplet: Blinded by Tears

O cunning Love! with tears thou keep’st me blind,
Lest eyes well-seeing thy foul faults should find.

The speaker sums up his situation by craftily laying the blame at the woman’s feet: she deliberately keeps him blinded by tears, so that his normally "well-seeing" eyes cannot detect her "foul faults."

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.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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