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 the painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictured 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.
This is regarded as one of the more tortuously worded of the sonnets, in which mental dexterity is matched by opacity of language. ‘Pure Bosch’, ‘pure bosh’, and ‘high flown nonsense’ are regarded as descriptive of it by GBE (Sonn. p.137, head note, and p.138 n.13-14). JK gives numerous interpretations of 4-6, which leave one’s head reeling. KDJ does not seem to worry over it too much. Perhaps it is indeed more clear to some than to others. One should however not discount the possibility of misprints, and I suggest below one minor emendation for line 4. If we accept the notion that this is an example of ‘looking babies’ in each other’s eyes, (KDJ p.158, head note) whereby each lover sees his/her own reflection when gazing soulfully into the lover’s eye, then Thy beauty’s form is the reflection that the youth sees in Shakespeare’s eyes of himself in miniature, which Sh. imagines as transferred to his (Sh’s) heart. Since the youth is looking into Sh’s breast through his own eyes at his own image, it is as if he is peeping in through windows, the windows being his own eyes. The same process could be repeated for Shakespeare’s image in the lover’s eyes.
However, bearing in mind the miscibility of hearts that has been depicted in the previous sonnet, it is not absolutely necessary to accept the above explanation. It may be simpler to adopt the view that the lover’s eye transfers the image of the beloved that he sees directly into his own heart. This is evidently what happens in 46 & 47 (see below).
By the end of sonnet 24, as I think also of 47, we are uncertain whose eye, breast or heart is where, but it does not matter greatly, for the lovers are one and inseparable, which is probably what the poet is trying to show us.
Finally a note of unease is introduced, the first sign of doubt, the first glimpse of a darkening on the horizon. Perhaps the ideal is too perfect to be sustained for long, or perhaps the poet cannot bring himself to believe that all can be as wonderful as it appears, that brightness falls from the air, and all must die. Despite the two hearts which are as one, the closing couplet is a warning harbinger of less happy times to come.