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Sonnet 50

April 25, 2016

Sonnet 50
How heauie doe I journey on the way,
When what I seeke (my wearie trauels end)
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
Thus farre the miles are measurde from thy friend.
The beast that beares me, tired with my woe,
Plods duly on, to beare that waight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider lou’d not speed being made from thee:
The bloody spurre cannot prouoke him on,
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heauily he answers with a grone,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side,
For that same grone doth put this in my mind,
My greefe lies onward and my joy behind.

–William Shakespeare 1609

COMMENTARY: Yesterday was Shakespeare’s birthday, so I thought I’d post one of my favorite sonnets of his—a melancholy groan about separation. The conceit of the horse bearing lover from beloved, recurring in one other Shakespeare sonnet and two of Sidneys, may have been meant to recall Ovid’s “horses of the night,” the too-fast journey of which brought the lover-dividing daybreak. Or it may have been meant to suggest the inner, plodding, beast-like faculty that has decided, for whatever reasons of prudence or necessity, to distance the speaker from speakee. Or just the literal animal. Or all three.

The reason I like this sonnet, besides the muscular, straightforward nature of the argument and the heavy poignancy of the adjectives, is the way Shakespeare handles the closing couplet. I find—maybe this is just me—that, in many of the sonnets that final, spring-tight, coup de grace is somehow too neat—a tidy bow. The first dozen lines build up a situation of immense tension or paradox, the last two somehow tie it into the superficial nicety of the aphorism. But in this sonnet, the couplet does not contradict or cutely reverse the rhetorical direction of the poem but rather furthers it. While in many of his sonnets, the closing couplet is semantically and syntactically independent of the first dozen lines, here, the repeition of the word “groan” ties it to rhythm of the long, preceding sentence. This makes the last line hiccough and jut out musically from the thirteenth. This accents and isolates that final strong, direct, spare articulation of the theme.

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From → Love Poems

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