Thou Blind Man's Mark

What do you think of when you hear the word desire? For English poet Philip Sidney (1554-1586), desire was a dark, manipulative force that must be (figuratively) killed. In his 16th-century poem "Thou Blind Man's Mark," Sidney compares desire to a trap, a web, and even the "band of all evils" (3). It poisons people's minds and invades their thoughts until the only thing they can think of is desire itself. And the only way to stop desire from completely controlling one's life is to kill it from the inside. 

Thou Blind Man's Mark Thou Blind Man's Mark

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Contents
Table of contents

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" at a Glance

    Written By

    Philip Sidney

    Publication Date

    1598

    Form

    Irregular sonnet, quatorzain

    Meter

    Iambic pentameter

    Rhyme Scheme

    ABAB BABA BCC BCC

    Poetic Devices

    Metaphor

    Personification

    Figure of Speech

    Repetition and anaphora

    Alliteration

    Frequently noted imagery

    Self chosen snare

    Scum

    Web of will

    Mangled mind

    Smoky fire

    Tone

    Hatful and disgusted giving way to empowered in the final stanza

    Key themes

    Desire as the enemy

    Inner love and morality as strength

    Meaning

    Desire is a manipulative, ruinous force that only virtue and self-love can defeat.

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" by Philip Sidney

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" was published in Philip Sidney's Certain Sonnets in 1598. Although not from a noble family, Sidney aspired to the ideal of the 16th-century gentleman through his social positions and connections. He held offices expected of gentlemen such as a soldier, courtier, and statesmen. He also avoided commercialism and did not have any of his literary works published during his lifetime. Although he likely shared this poem with his close friends while he was alive, it was not published for the public until Sidney had been dead for over a decade.

    Sidney was born in Penshurst Place, Kent, in 1554. He was born to a well-connected family, but the Sidney's were not nobility themselves. Sidney had two marriage proposals fall through before he finally married Frances Burke, Countess of Clanricarde, in 1583. She was the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, who was close with Queen Elizabeth and her principal secretary.

    First, Sidney almost married Anne Cecil, daughter of Sir William Cecil, but the union fell through when Sir William discovered Sidney's family was not exceedingly wealthy. She eventually married Edward de Vere, Sidney's more successful rival.

    Walter Devereux, with whom Sidney was close friends, later proposed that Sidney should marry his daughter, Penelope. Sidney did not take the proposal seriously but later regretted his decision when Penelope married Lord Robert Rich in 1581. Penelope later became "Stella," the love interest in Sidney's Astrophil and Stella sonnets. Although he was married and dedicated the sonnets to his wife, they were written for Penelope and speak to Sidney's struggle with desire and lost love.

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" Poem

    Below is Sir Philip Sidney's poem "Thou Blind Man's Mark" in its entirety.

    Thou blind man's mark, thou fool's self-chosen snare,Fond fancy's scum, and dregs of scattered thought ;Band of all evils, cradle of causeless care ;Thou web of will, whose end is never wrought ;

    Desire, desire ! I have too dearly bought,With price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware ;Too long, too long, asleep thou hast me brought,Who shouldst my mind to higher things prepare.

    But yet in vain thou hast my ruin sought ;In vain thou madest me to vain things aspire ;In vain thou kindlest all thy smoky fire ;

    For virtue hath this better lesson taught,—Within myself to seek my only hire,Desiring nought but how to kill desire."

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" Summary

    The speaker begins by criticizing himself for falling into the influence of desire. He calls it "fool's self-chosen snare" (1), "dregs of scattered thought" (2), and "band of all evils" (3), among other things. Desire has ruined his mind. He once used to think about important, worthwhile things, but now he can only think about desire. But, the speaker argues, desire's efforts to ruin him are in vain. Because his virtue has taught him a lesson: all he needs to do is kill the desire within himself, and he will be free from its influence.

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" Poetic Devices

    The main poetic devices used in "Thou Blind Man's Mark" include metaphor, personification, figure of speech, anaphora/repetition, and alliteration.

    Metaphor

    The poem begins with several metaphors, although it isn't entirely clear who the "Thou," the subject of the metaphors, is. The speaker says,

    Thou blind man's mark, thou fool's self-chosen snare,Fond fancy's scum, and dregs of scattered thought ;Band of all evils, cradle of causeless care" (1-3)

    It isn't until the next stanza that the speaker reveals "Thou" is desire. In the first metaphor, the speaker compares desire to the target of a naive, unaware man, who is blind to reality. He also compares it to a trap a fool would willingly choose to walk into, the leftover filth of fancy, and a cradle that nurtures worthless attention.

    Metaphor: the comparison of two unlike things not using like/as

    Desire is not compared to anything positive in any of these metaphors. Instead, it is depicted as a wicked, foul force that ruins the lives of those who do not know to watch out for it or those who naively seek it out.

    Thou Blind Man's Mark, Illustration of heart caught in an open trap, StudySmarterThe speaker compares desire to a trap fools willingly walk into, freepik

    Personification and Figure of Speech

    Metaphor leads swiftly into the personification of desire. In addition to referring directly to desire as "thou" (or, in modern terms, "you"), desire is able to actively work against the speaker in a way an abstract noun shouldn't be able to. Consider stanza three, when the speaker directly states desire is trying to ruin him:

    But yet in vain thou hast my ruin sought ;

    In vain thou madest me to vain things aspire ;

    In vain thou kindlest all thy smoky fire" (9-11)

    Desire is personified as a being capable of seeking the ruin and destruction of others. It can influence how the speaker thinks and even kindles a metaphorical fire. Desire isn't just an abstract feeling in the speaker's mind. Instead, it functions as the antagonist in the poem which aspires, without success, to hurt the speaker.

    Personification: attributing human qualities (characteristics, emotions, and behaviors) to nonhuman things.

    Thou Blind Man's Mark, Hand controlling a puppet on a string, StudySmarterThe speaker personifies desire, saying it made him think and act according to its own whims, pixabay

    The last stanza again uses personification, but it is to the speaker's advantage this time. Virtue defends the speaker against desire, teaching him ,as a human would, precisely what he needs to do to keep desire from taking control of his mind. The speaker says,

    For virtue hath this better lesson taught,—Within myself to seek my only hire,Desiring nought but how to kill desire." (12-14)

    In this final stanza, the reader also encounters a figure of speech, which works in tandem with personification. When the speaker says he wants to kill desire, he means the personified version that infringes on his life, but he also means he wants to figuratively banish the emotion from his mind. He isn't going to literally kill anything. Instead, his murder of desire will be completely figurative as the two battle for dominance.

    Figure of speech: the use of a phrase or speech meant to be used for vivid rhetorical sense, not to be taken literally.

    Thou Blind Man's Mark, Illustration of a heart stabbed with swords, StudySmarterThe speaker uses the figure of speech "kill desire" to express his intention to forcibly rid himself of his desire, pixabay

    Anaphora and Repetition

    The speaker uses repetition and anaphora to express how all-encompassing and pervasive a force desire has become in his life. He repeats "Desire, desire !" in line 5 to stress desire is his enemy. And in line 7, he repeats the phrase "too long" directly after the first to show desire is a long-lasting threat that will not leave him alone.

    The anaphora in stanza three repeats "In vain thou" in quick succession. Almost like a list, the speaker discusses how desire has tried to infiltrate his life. But the incantation of "in vain" strengthens the speaker as he reminds himself the desire will not win. He repeats it to himself as if he is manifesting his victory over the force that has held him captive for so long.

    Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive clauses

    Alliteration

    Alliteration contributes to the hateful, disgusted tone as it emphasizes words with highly negative connotations. Consider the repetition of the "S" sound in "self-chosen snare" (1), the "C" in "cradle of causeless care" (3), the "M" in "mangled mind" (6), and the "W" in "worthless ware" (6). Alliteration catches the reader's eye and grabs their attention with the quick repetition of similar sounds. In each of these instances of alliteration, the speaker's hatred of desire is heightened as the negativity inherent in words like snare, mangled, causeless, and worthless is stressed.

    Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of a group of closely connected words

    Read the poem aloud. Do you notice any other way that Sidney plays with language? What effect does that have on the poem?

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" Themes

    The predominant themes in "Thou Blind Man's Mark" are desire as the enemy and inner love and morality as strength.

    Desire as the Enemy

    As mentioned above, desire is the primary antagonist in the poem. It has invaded the speaker's life, overpowered every thought, and now attempts to ruin his morality. The speaker says,

    Desire, desire ! I have too dearly bought,

    With price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware ;

    Too long, too long, asleep thou hast me brought,

    Who shouldst my mind to higher things prepare." (5-8)

    Desire is the speaker's enemy, and it's a powerful opponent. The reason that desire is an effective opponent is because people think they want it. The speaker says it is a trap "chosen" (1) by fools and the "mark" (1)—or target—of men who are unaware of its power. People don't actually know how dangerous desire is until it is too late and they no longer have control of their thoughts or lives, which have been overtaken by desire. The speaker only knows how manipulative desire can become because he has witnessed its effects for "too long" (7).

    Inner Love and Morality as Strength

    If desire is the enemy, then inner love and morality are the only strengths one has to defeat it. The speaker states that virtue has taught him that he needs to look within himself to find the only person capable of killing the desire. Although desire is personified throughout the poem, in reality, it is an abstract thing that only exists in one's mind. To defeat it, one has to rely on their own sense of love and morality as weapons to combat toxic, all-consuming desire.

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" Meaning

    "Thou Blind Man's Mark" examines desire's effects on a person. The speaker argues that it's not the light, happy feeling that leads to lifelong love but instead a dark, all-consuming force. The desire that he refers to takes everything from a person, leaving only "dregs" and "scum" (2) behind. It invades one's life until all they are capable of thinking about are vain, frivolous things.

    But, the speaker knows how to combat the evil, ruinous force of desire. One only has to look inside themselves to find all the strength they need. Desire is a manipulative force that can only be defeated with virtue and self-love.

    Thou Blind Man's Mark - Key takeaways

    • "Thou Blind Man's Mark" was written by Philip Sidney and published posthumously in 1598.
    • The poem explores the dangers of desire, which Sidney had some experience with as he had two failed marriage proposals before he finally got married in 1583.
    • The poem begins with a hateful and disgusted tone but gives way to empowerment in the final stanza.
    • The main themes are desire as the enemy and inner love and morality as strength.
    • The poem means desire is a manipulative force that can only be defeated with virtue and self-love.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Thou Blind Man's Mark

    What poetic devices are in “Thou Blind Man’s Mark?"

    The main poetic devices used in "Thou Blind Man's Mark" include metaphor, personification, figure of speech, anaphora/repetition, and alliteration.

    What type of poem is “Thou Blind Man’s Mark?"

    Some scholars consider “Thou Blind Man’s Mark” a sonnet because it has 14 lines and is written in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme is irregular for a sonnet, though, so other scholars more conservatively consider it a quatorzain, which is just a poem with 14 lines.

    How is desire personified in “Thou Blind Man’s Mark?"

    Desire is personified as the antagonist in the poem. It actively works against the speaker, manipulating his thoughts and actions while it attempts to control him.

    When was “Thou Blind Man’s Mark” written?

    Scholars believe “Thou Blind Man’s Mark” was written around 1580. But, like all of Sidney’s other works, it was published posthumously. The poem was published in 1598.

    Is “Thou Blind Man’s Mark” a sonnet?

    Some scholars consider it a sonnet because it has the right number of lines and follows the same meter. However, the rhyme scheme is unconventional for a sonnet, so others argue that it is not.

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    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
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