‘Sonnet 47,’ also known as ‘Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,’ is number forty-seven of 154 sonnets that Shakespeare wrote in his lifetime. This particular poem is included as one of 126 in the Fair Youth sequence. It is dedicated to and addressed to a beautiful young man. ‘Sonnet 47’ is the follow up to ‘Sonnet46’ in which similar themes are discussed, it is considered as one of three sonnets that deal with absence in this specific way.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 47,’ the speaker announces that his heart and eyes have officially come to terms with one another. There is no need for them to fight over which part of the youth belongs to them. Now, they know that they can get along by helping the other when one part of the youth is missing. The eyes can help feed the heart when both are starving and the eyes can come to the heart for a reminder of love when the youth is not there. The speaker is satisfied with this as it allows the youth to reside no farther than his thoughts at all times.
‘Sonnet 47’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line, single stanza poem that is structured in the form that has become synonymous with the poet’s name. The English or Shakespearean sonnet is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Any deviation from the traditional pattern is unusual for Shakespeare and is worth pointing out. This poem, like all of those included in the 154 sonnets is written in iambic pentameter.
Iambic pentameter means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 47’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, personification, and metaphor. The last of these is evident in the first lines of the poem. A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this case, Shakespeare describes the image of the youth as a “painted banquet” for the “famished” eye.
Metaphor is linked to personification in ‘Sonnet 47’. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. For example, the heart and eye are described as arguing and taking different sides. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “look” and “love” in lines two and three and “banquet bid” in line six.
Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other.
When that mine eye is famished for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother,
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 47,’ the speaker begins by saying that his eye and heart, which were feeding in the previous sonnet (‘Sonnet 46’) have come to an agreement. They have taken a “league” with one another. They are going to work to gather to make sure that the speaker’s body is never devoid of happiness and the pleasure that the youth’s love brings him. When his eye is starving to see the youth or the heart is covering itself in sighs of love, then something is going to happen. It requires the reader to move to the next quatrain to find out what that something is.
With my love’s picture then my eye doth feast
And to the painted banquet bids my heart.
Another time mine eye is my heart’s guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part.
The speaker’s eye is going to have a fest to sate its hunger with a picture of the fair youth. The heart will join in and they will share the love together. It can also go in the other direction with the eye as the guest of the heart with which he shares some love.
So either by thy picture or my love,
Thyself away are present still with me;
For thou no farther than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them, and they with thee;
Or if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
Awakes my heart to heart’s and eye’s delight.
This agreement works out in the best possible way for both the eye and the heart. When the youth is gone he will still be present in the speaker’s body. He can’t ever get any farther away than the speaker’s thoughts can travel. This is perfect for the speaker who always has his thoughts with him.
The speaker has the youth in his thoughts when he goes to sleep and when he wakes up. The youth’s image will wake up his heart and delight the eyes and the heart at the same time.