It has been said that the eyes are the window of the soul.
I used the passive voice in the preceding sentence because I don’t know who said it first. It’s been attributed to Shakespeare, which sounds good, although I can’t find just where he actually wrote it (maybe he just “said” it aloud while in his cups one evening and it passed along as word-of-mouth? Unlikely). The quote has also been attributed to Da Vinci and Cicero and others, probably Will Rogers and Mark Twain as well, since both are oft-quoted; but, the truth seems to be that no one knows who actually created the metaphor of the eyes as soul-window, though countless other writers have repeated it.
Including, now, myself.
[I know, some of the grammar Nazis will insist that I should have written “Including, now, me.” While they may be technically correct, I liked the way “myself” sounded to my ear. If I had written “I am included now myself” it would be proper English, since the “myself” would be an intensive pronoun adding emphasis to the subject “I.” I propose that the “I am” is the understood subject of my own sentence, which would be awkwardly written as “I am including, now, myself.” I would argue that it is the word “including” that is wrong, not the “myself.” Whatever. Grammar Nazis can go to Hell.]
I honestly don’t care who said it first. It’s just that I was thinking about eyes the other morning while doing a little light reading. When a person is described, whether in a novel or in non-fiction, the eyes are invariably mentioned. In real life, those of us who don’t have a problem looking people in the eye (some people have trouble with this, even when they’re not lying through their teeth) will notice this physical attribute early on. Maybe not first. That’s usually gender, race, body type and so on. Things discernible at a distance. Hair and voice factor into this first impression as well. But, we get around to the eyes sooner or later.
In the world of the printed page, it’s almost always sooner. And the easiest way to describe eyes is by color. My personal library is largely fiction, and, of these books, most are mysteries or thrillers, with a smattering of speculative fiction thrown into the mix. Since I am a man of many obsessions [is it possible to have a lot of obsessions? By definition, one obsession would seem to preclude others. There should be a more accurate term for a multitude of obsessions. If there isn’t one, I’ll coin it now: yobsession, where “y-” is an inflectional prefix that I’ll make, yeah, silent in this case, if only to confuse the issue] I pored through maybe twelve volumes or so, scanning for references to eyes. There were a lot of them. Believe it or not, few of the descriptions of character eyes were as simple as telling the reader their color.
There were colors a-plenty, I assure you. From cornflower blue to verdant green. I’ve never met anyone in real life with gray eyes, but there seems to be a veritable population explosion of them in my books. Nor have I met anyone with irises so dark that they are indiscernible from the pupils. But, again, they are there on the page. Most of my favorite authors seem to favor blue eyes heavily, followed closely by green and the omnipresent gray. I’ve read that 55% of the world’s population has brown eyes, my eye color, but we are under-represented in my random sample. Brown is seldom mentioned as an eye color, and when it is, it is likely to be “warm” or “mahogany.” Most of the time, “brown” eyes aren’t referred to by color at all, just lumped under the umbrella of “dark” eyes.
As I said, color seems to be a minor descriptive point in fiction. As is shape, although you can be certain that an Asian character will always have almond-shaped eyes.
Most of the time, my favorite writers find other ways to describe a character’s eyes. Eyes are deepset, downcast, penetrating, luminous, fiery, heavy-lidded, glittering, steely, lively, solemn, bloodshot, bulging, soulless, bleary, watery, cold, hard, vacant, dull, suspicious, amused, terrified, restless and bored. They have also been known to be nimble, quick, riveting, and sloe. “Sloe” eyes were much more popular in mid-20th Century detective fiction. It’s either a color or eye-shape, depending upon which definition you accept.
And, bringing this around full-circle, metaphors (and similes) also abound. The eyes aren’t just windows, they are also the following: cold and dark as onyx; owlish; cloudy dull marbles; glowing in the dark like the eyes of a lynx; shimmering like moss-grown pools or polished gemstones. Lots of gemstones and rocks: sapphires, emeralds, onyx, slate, granite, obsidian, mica, diamond, gold, silver. Eyes are compared to a searing flash of lightning, to black holes, to oceans and lakes.
Oddly, I could find no examples of eyes compared to windows, although there were a couple of instances where the windows of houses were compared to eyes. Huh.
There is no conclusion to be drawn from this largely pointless exercise. It was just a minor yobsession to amuse me. Myself.