‘Sonnet 148‘ is one of William Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. It is one of several poems in the ‘Dark Lady’ sequence of sonnets. This particular poem deals with the speaker’s interpretation of reality. ‘Sonnet 148’ questions the way the speaker sees the world and how he overlooks the Dark Lady’s faults.
Explore Sonnet 148
’Sonnet 148’ by William Shakespeare describes how blinded the speaker has become due to his relationship with the Dark Lady.
The first lines contain several questions that explore the possibility that the speaker’s eyes or reason are wrong in some way. He’s thinking that perhaps his eyes aren’t seeing clearly, or maybe they are, and his mind is interpreting the information incorrectly. But, he isn’t convinced of either of these options. In the last quatrain, the speaker compares his eyes (which are blinded by tears) to the sun blinded by cloudy skies. This is something he blames on his “Love,” the Dark Lady.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of love and reality. The latter is in question due to the former. His obsession with the Dark Lady has changed how he sees her and the rest of the world. He continually has to overlook her faults because he’s so in love/lust with her. She’s blinded him to reality through all her alluring features. Despite being well aware of how his life has changed, how he’s lost his independence and confidence, the speaker is unable to cut ties with his mistress.
Structure and Form
‘Sonnet 148’ by William Shakespeare is a Shakespearean sonnet. This means that it contains fourteen lines. These are divided into two quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one sestet, or set of six lines. They rhyme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Shakespeare popularized this pattern, and it’s common to see later sonnets following the same rhyme scheme. The poem is also written in iambic pentameter.
In iambic pentameter, each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed, and the second is stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. The thirteenth line is a particularly good example. The poem can also be divided into three sets of four lines and a final two-line couplet.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 148’. These include but are not limited to examples of:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point—for example, the transition between lines seven and eight.
- Alliteration: the repetition of words with the same consonant sound. For example, “doth” and “denote” in line seven as well as “fair” and “false” in line five.
- Personification: the poet personifies “Love” throughout this poem. This means that he gives the force human features and abilities. In this case, he refers to “Love’s eyes.” Shakespeare also personified the sun in this poem, seen in the last quatrain.
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 the first lines of ‘Sonnet 148,’ the speaker begins by exclaiming over the state of his mind. He’s unable to see clearly when Love is directing his sight. “What eyes,” he asks, did “Love” put into his head. These eyes have “no correspondence with true sight.” This poem directly relates to the previous in which he was describing the terrible price his relationship to the Dark Lady has cost him. He’s lost his ability to see and reason. Love blinds his judgment. He also considers that his eyes are seeing clearly but that his judgment has “fled.” Either way, this quatrain is concerned with a problem the speaker is having.
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,
In the second quatrain, the speaker considers another possibility. He wonders how he or anyone knows that what they’re seeing is true or false. If he sees it, how can the world say it’s not true? On the other hand, if what he sees is false or disturbed in some way, then his eye are “not so true as all men’s.” He follows this with a single word— “no.”
How can it? O! how can Love’s eye be true,
That is so vexed 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.
The speaker asks for another quatrain in the final quatrain. He wonders how it’s possible for him, or anyone for that matter, who is so in love to see clearly. His eyes are filled with tears, obscuring the clarity of the scene. He’s distraught, still suffering from the rambling and chaotic thoughts from the previous sonnet. He compares his sight problems to the sun and how when it’s raining and cloudy, it’s hard for it to see as well. This example of personification attempts to rationalize what the speaker is experiencing.
Just as in the previous sonnet, the poet addressed the Dark Lady in the closing couplet, so too does he direct his words to her in these lines. He refers to his “cunning Love” and how that love, or the Dark Lady, blinds him with tears so that he can’t see her faults.
It’s likely, in some readers’ and scholars’ minds, that the speaker is William Shakespeare. The poet may have been writing from his perspective in this poem and in all those which preceded it.
The tone is questioning and, at some points, distraught. The speaker is concerned about the state of his mind and eyes. He eventually decides that love has blinded him to the true nature of the Dark Lady, something he should be well aware of by now.
‘Sonnet 148’ conveys the message that love has the ability to blind one to the true nature of their partner. The poet compares his blindness to the sun blocked out by clouds and rain. Despite this, it’s not easy to shrug off one’s love when it’s become such an integral part of one’s life.
‘Sonnet 148’ is significant because it is a step back from the illness metaphor from the previous sonnet. In these lines, he’s less angry and abrasive. He’s instead accepting the fact that he might not see clearly and questioning his love as to why he’s ended up this way.
Shakespeare wrote ‘Sonnet 148’ was a way of addressing his speaker’s relationship to the Dark Lady. He still loves his mistress, even if she does blind him with tears and plague him with cruelty. This sonnet and others, help readers understand the complexities of their relationship.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Sonnet 148’ should also consider reading other William Shakespeare poems. For example:
- ‘Sonnet 76’ – is an upbeat and clever sonnet that discusses the speaker’s love for the youth and his own writing.
- ‘Sonnet 145’ – details a woman’s changing regard for the speaker. It’s a simple poem with good examples of figurative language.
- ‘Sonnet 135’ – is an unusual sonnet within Shakespeare’s oeuvre. It expresses the speaker’s desire to sleep with the Dark Lady and counted among her many lovers.