Mine eye hath played the painter and hath steeled,
Thy beauty's form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein 'tis held,
And perspective that is best 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.
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,
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:
So, either by thy picture or my love,
Thy self away, art present still with me;
For thou not 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.
The 1609 Quarto Version
Mine eye hath play'd the painter and hath ſteeld,
Thy beauties forme in table of my heart,
My body is the frame wherein ti's held,
And perſpectiue it is beſt Painters art.
For through the Painter muſt you ſee his skill,
To finde where your true Image pictur'd lies,
Which in my boſomes ſhop is hanging ſtil,
That hath his windowes glazed with thine eyes:
Now ſee what good-turnes eyes for eies haue done,
Mine eyes haue drawne thy ſhape,and thine for me
Are windowes to my breſt, where-through the Sun
Delights to peepe,to gaze therein on thee
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art
They draw but what they ſee,know not the hart.