Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar,
My heart mine eye the freedom of that right.
My heart doth plead that thou in him dost lie–
A closet never pierced with crystal eyes–
But the defendant doth that plea deny
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To ‘cide this title is impanneled
A quest of thoughts, all tenants to the heart,
And by their verdict is determined
The clear eye’s moiety and the dear heart’s part:
As thus; mine eye’s due is thy outward part,
And my heart’s right thy inward love of heart.
These two sonnets, 46 & 47, debate the respective merits of the heart’s and the eyes’ claim to be the sole possessor of the beloved. In 46 they are at mortal war. In 47 they have evidently signed a pact. The whole thing is an amusing mix of psychological and physiological ideas which do not really add up, but it is held together here by the terminology of the courtroom. The eye and the heart are bound over to enjoy their own appropriate portion.
The quarrel between eyes and heart (or mind) for dominion in love’s realm was traditional. The eye was believed to hold the image, but the heart was responsible for feeling and emotion. Compare for example sonnets 19 and 20 by Thomas Watson in the Tears of Fancie (1593). The two sonnets are printed below.