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113| Mine Eye Untrue

Brad Clompus

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Two hundred years before Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, and Shelley sang of the haunted correspondence between nature and the human psyche, Shakespeare in Sonnet 113 described how the speaker’s perceptions are overruled by the intensity of his feelings for the beloved. Nature in this piece is relatively generic (the mountain, crow, dove, and sea), yet not this mountain, not that crow. In English poetry of the time, nature tends to be referenced broadly rather than in the particularity of a place or creature where extraordinary meaning might reside.

In any era, a writer might struggle to focus deeply on plants, animals, or landscapes as they are (their “objective” features) and how they figure in wider networks. Always, we are fogged by private schemes of what nature intends or portends.

Picked across a zone of rocks, disordered heaps as though petulantly dislodged from ancient shelters. Granite slabs as big as cars, askew, overlapping, colluding in a mineral way, sloping awkwardly toward the North Atlantic. On this peninsula named for a vanishing bird, I camped out alone a few days after the breakup, compensation arriving as spectacle, the rumpled sky tossing off unraveling clouds rushing dimly, piebald waves disintegrating against the slabs, creeping underneath into jigsaw crevices.

In Sonnet 113, the speaker observes the mind’s quandary: “For it no form delivers to the heart/Of bird, of flower, or shape which it doth latch” (4-6). Possibly this alludes to Plato’s theory of forms—but the poem laments that the perceived things are never grasped by the heart and hence do not become emotionally resonant. These lines also might connect to a Renaissance notion of sight, which holds that a stream of particles flows from the beholder’s eye to the object in order to capture it. What’s implied is potential for visual intimacy, a reciprocal flow between subject and object. Maybe if the speaker weren’t so besotted with love, he might be capable of such closeness to nature. The opening declaration of the sonnet (“Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind”) is a brilliant synopsis of the dilemma that afflicts all our encounters with the non-human world. When do we not perceive the given world through veils of emotion or ideology? Many writers wander obliviously in that haze; we can’t help ourselves. But Shakespeare, in the final couplet, clearly draws the fault lines of perception: “Incapable of more, replete with you, / My most true mind thus maketh mine eye untrue.”

Next day, weather mended, sky an oversaturated cerulean, I hiked to the same point, framed by redundant thickets of wild rose and honeysuckle, to ocean dwindled and complacent. That rock jumble did not fascinate anymore, rather annoyed for the trouble it made.

Poetry and essays by Brad Clompus have appeared in such places as West Branch, The Journal, Poetry East, Willow Springs, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Zone 3, Tampa Review, and Sonora Review. He is a humanities lecturer at Lesley University.

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