Sonnet 27

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SONNET 27

by William Shakespeare

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee, 
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide, 
Looking on darkness which the blind do see; 
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight 
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new:
   Lo, thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
   For thee, and for myself, no quiet find. 

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Shakespeare’s famous sonnet is 14 lines, in iambic pentameter, with an ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG rhyme scheme.

The poem is about the Speaker, exhausted, finding himself unable to sleep due to his thoughts of someone else who is far away. The work does not provide a happy ending. The Speaker lets us know that his fatigue lingers on, day by day, and that he is unable to find quiet and rest apart from the person he is fixated upon.

Lines 1 through 4:

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:

These lines serve as the set up for the rest of the sonnet. We (the reader) meet the Speaker and learn that he is weary from some unknown and undescribed toil, desperate to sleep. However, as we see in line 3, getting to his bed only begins a wholly separate work that occurs inside of his mind.

Lines 5 through 8:

For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee, 
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide, 
Looking on darkness which the blind do see; 

These four lines describe the specific situation to the reader. The Speaker is unable to sleep because his mind wanders to “thee.” Thus, despite the fatigue of his body, his mind will not let him sleep.

In these lines, the poem shifts to the second person perspective. The “thee” of these lines is widely believed to be the “fair youth” mentioned in other works – however the description given here is sparse.

The “Fair Youth” is the unnamed young man addressed by the devoted poet in the greatest sequence of the sonnets (1126). The young man is handsome, self-centred, universally admired and much sought after. The sequence begins with the poet urging the young man to marry and father children (sonnets 1–17). It continues with the friendship developing with the poet’s loving admiration, which at times is homoerotic in nature. Then comes a set of betrayals by the young man, as he is seduced by the Dark Lady, and they maintain a liaison (sonnets 133, 134 & 144), all of which the poet struggles to abide. It concludes with the poet’s own act of betrayal, resulting in his independence from the fair youth (sonnet 152).

The identity of the Fair Youth has been the subject of speculation among scholars. One popular theory is that he was Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton; this is based in part on the idea that his physical features, age, and personality might fairly match the young man in the sonnets. He was both an admirer and patron of Shakespeare and was considered one of the most prominent nobles of the period. It is also noted that Shakespeare’s 1593 poem Venus and Adonis is dedicated to Southampton and, in that poem a young man, Adonis, is encouraged by the goddess of love, Venus, to beget a child, which is a theme in the sonnets.

Lines 9 through 12:

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight 
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new:

In these lines, the Speaker tells us what keeps his eyes open. When he stares into the darkness, tired, he sees an image of the Fair Youth (assuming that is indeed the addressee of this work) and the imaginary image in his mind is beautiful to behold. He describes it as a “jewel hung in ghastly night.”

Lines 13 and 14:

Lo, thus by day my limbs, by night my mind,
   For thee, and for myself, no quiet find. 

The rhyming couplet at the end provides a summary of the situation. His body is worn out by his days and his mind by his nights. Though we hear in the first couple of lines that the Speaker’s body is tired, these lines seem to tell us why. In addition to spending his nights thinking of the Fair Youth, the Speaker also apparently spends his days engaged in the same endeavor.

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