Nose Versus Eyes Poem Summary & Explanation Notes


This satirical poem ‘Nose versus Eyes’ by William Cowper is a take on the judiciary system. It also mocks at the stone-blind justice in a humorous manner emphasizing the lack of empathy and common sense. The poet was one of the most popular 18th century English poets and composers of hymns. His poems deal with nature and everyday life. He is aptly described by Samuel T. Coleridge as the ‘Best Modern Poet’ of his times.

Stanza 1

Between Nose and Eyes a strange contest arose, -
The spectacles set them unhappily wrong;
The point in dispute was, as all the world knows,
To which the said spectacles ought to belong.

There was a dispute between the nose and the eyes and the reason behind the dispute was to whom do the spectacles belong. We are aware that the spectacles are meant for eyes but here both the eyes and the nose wanted to have their claim on the spectacles.

Stanza 2

So Tongue was the lawyer, and argued the cause
With great deal of skill, and a wig full of learning;
While Chief Baron Ear sat to balance the laws,
So famed for his talent in nicely discerning.

The tongue was made by the lawyer who argued the case professionally while the Chief Baron Ear sat to settle the dispute because it is famous for its sound and intelligent judgment.

Stanza 3

'In behalf of the Nose it will quickly appear,
And your lordship,' he said, 'will undoubtedly find,
That the Nose has had spectacles always in wear,
Which amounts to possession time out of mind.'

The Lawyer i.e., the tongue started the case in favor of the nose saying that the nose always has to wear spectacles and the nose is the owner and thus the spectacles belong to the nose which was an illogical argument by the lawyer.

Stanza 4

Then holding the spectacles up to the court,
'Your lordship observes they are made with a straddle
As wide as the ridge of the Nose is; in short,
Designed to sit close to it, just like a saddle.

The Lawyer shows the spectacles to everybody in the court and argues that it has a straddle as wide as the ridge of the nose, in short, it is designed to sit on the nose as the saddle is designed for the cause and thus nose is the owner of the spectacle.

Stanza 5

'Again would your lordship a moment suppose,
('Tis a case that has happened, and may be again)
That the visage or countenance had not a Nose,
Pray who would, or who could, wear spectacles then?

The nose again presented another argument which is very funny and interesting. The tongue asked everyone to imagine if there was no nose then who would wear spectacles? Every face has a nose and a face without any nose is not possible. The tongue is just trying to press the point that the nose was meant for spectacles and vice versa.

Stanza 6

'On the whole it appears, and my argument shows,
With a reasoning the court will never condemn,
That the spectacles plainly were made for the Nose,
And the Nose was as plainly intended for them.'

The Lawyer concludes that the spectacles were plainly and only made for the nose. As the court had heard the whole argument, it was only in favor of the nose and reasoning. There was no question that the spectacles were not meant for the nose, they are simply made for each other.

Stanza 7

Then shifting his side, as a lawyer knows how,
He pleaded again in behalf of the Eyes:
But what were his arguments few people know,
For the court did not think they were equally wise,

As every lawyer does, it shifted its side towards eyes and pleaded on behalf of eyes also but whatever it said for the eyes now didn’t seem convincing as it had already made strong arguments in favor of nose.

Stanza 8

So his lordship decreed with a grave solemn tone,
Decisive and clear, without one if or but-
That, whenever the Nose put his spectacles on,
By daylight or candlelight-Eyes should be shut!

The judgment was passed, the lordship gave the order with emotion like a dead person without any sense in a very formal and very dignified manner without having any second thought. The judgment stated that the spectacles belonged to the nose and he even stated that whenever the nose put his spectacles in daylight on candlelight, eyes should be shut!


The Poem is a delightful read and is appealing to the reader due to its ease of understanding and humorous take on the realities of the legal system. Through the use of powerful imagery, the poet successfully convinces the reader to make proper use of his sensory abilities.

Though the poem is a mockery of the legal system and judiciary, it gives a deep message as well that how important it is to carry the legal proceedings carefully and how a wrong decree can result in a lifetime loss. The poem also brings forth the non-success of the judiciary system in delivering apt justice.

The irony of the poem is that the judgment was announced in favor of the nose, who actually had no use of the spectacle and who actually needs the specs, the eyes were asked to shut when it is been worn by someone. If the eyes will remain close, what will be the use of wearing spectacles?