“Sonnet 24: Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d” by William Shakespeare

Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter

Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies;
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

I read this sonnet twice this morning and really connected with it.

The first thing that struck me was the contrast between visual art as expressed through painting and literary art as expressed through poetry. While Shakespeare acknowledges the virtue of painting, he feels that it does not adequately capture and express beauty the way poetry does, since poetry uses internal images to convey beauty. Essentially, a poet paints with words, and the mind is the canvass on which he paints. As someone who lacks even the most rudimentary drawing skills, I find this inspiring, that my words could conjure images as clear and as moving as any painter.

The other thing that resonated with me was the use of eyes as a metaphor for windows to the soul. It’s a phrase that has become somewhat hackneyed over the years, but it is still true. When you look deeply into a person’s eyes, you really do tap into the essence of who that person is. When two people look each other in the eye, a connection is made on an internal level, especially when that gaze is accompanied by feelings of love.

I hope you enjoyed this poem as much as I did, and as always, feel free to share your comments.

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4 Comments

Filed under Literature

4 responses to ““Sonnet 24: Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d” by William Shakespeare

  1. It’s true about seeing so much when you look into another person’s eyes…

    • I know! When I was studying Emerson in college, we had an assignment to pair up with another person and just stare into that person’s eyes without speaking. There was definitely a spiritual connection happening.

  2. Wow, this really makes you think. I had not thought much about the differences between expressing beauty through art and poetry. And you are right, the “eyes” have it!

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