My heart and my eye have reached a mutually beneficial understanding. When my eye yearns for the sight of my beloved, or when my heart is pining, then my eye shares the sight of my beloved (seen in a painting) with my heart. At other times, my heart will share with my eye (in imagination) some memory or thought of the beloved. So whether in painting or in imagination, you are always present with me. It is impossible for you to move outside the sphere of my thoughts; I am always with my thoughts, and they are always with you. Or, if my thoughts are, as it were, sleeping, then your painting will delight my eyes and thus awake my heart.
It is noteworthy that in both Sonnet 46 and Sonnet 47 the eye, as a party to the trial or to the truce is always used in the singular. The plural eyes is used in line 6 of Sonnet 46 and possibly (at least in the modern version of the text) in line 14 of Sonnet 47 but they do not refer there to the "defendant". In Sonnet 24 both singular and plural are used to refer to the eyes of the speaker.
Source and analysis
The sonnet thematically continues from the "verdict" delivered by the eye and heart in the previous sonnet. Kerrigan perceives an allusion to the story of Zeuxis and Parrhasius in the "painted banquet" of line 8. Comparing the same image to similar passages in The Faerie Queene, Booth regards the image as symbolic of coldness and insufficiency. Sidney Lee suggests that the conceit of the poem inspired a passage in John Suckling's Tragedy of Benneralt. Edmond Malone notes that the figure of line 3 appears also in The Comedy of Errors; Edward Dowden notes parallels to Sonnet 75.
- Alden, Raymond. The Sonnets of Shakespeare, with Variorum Reading and Commentary. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1916.
- Baldwin, T. W. On the Literary Genetics of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1950.
- Booth, Stephen. Shakespeare's Sonnets. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.
- Hubler, Edwin. The Sense of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952.
- Lee, Sidney. Elizabethan Sonnets. Westminster: Constable, 1904.