Poetry Series II: Shakespeare Sonnet 27

Welcome to Poetry Series day II! Hopefully y’all are interested in Shakespeare Sonnets, because I’ve read (quite literally) every single one for this class and will be sharing about 11 with you guys.

Today, we’re talking about sonnet 27, which is my personal favorite of all time, and I think you guys will really enjoy it.

Sonnet 27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel 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.

Analysis

In this poem, Shakespeare speaks of trying to go to sleep, but being unable to due to the “imaginary sight” of the woman to whom he is writing this poem. Essentially, he states that when he goes to bed at night, he is “weary with toil” from the day which his “limbs” spent chasing after this woman. However, at night rather than sleeping, he “intend[s] a zealous pilgrimage” to the woman whom he (presumably) loves.

Part of what makes this poem so powerful is the stark contrast between negative and positive imagery in each line of the poem. For example, in line 11, Shakespeare says “like a jewel hung in ghastly night”. The poem starts off as quite positive, but the term “ghastly” gives the sense of negative surroundings. This emphasizes his feelings for the woman, because she is lighting up a night which would otherwise be a horrid experience. It is almost as though Shakespeare is upset to be up at night, but this disappointment is countered by the fact that he gets to dream of a beautiful woman. This is further emphasized by the “save that” in the beginning of the third quatrain. In the first two, he states that he is not sleeping because he is on a worklike journey (“then begins a journey in my head”), and then in the final quatrain he states that it is to see this woman, and seems to look upon it affectionately despite the work it requires.

One part of this poem that I do not fully understand is why he ends the poem by stating “for thee, and for myself…”. In the entire poem, it seems like he is the only one up at night. Does this last line mean that they both are? Or is it implying that he is awake for this woman and for himself? There is ambiguity here and I’m uncertain if it was intentional or not.

let's talk

What’s your favorite part of sonnet 27? do you love it as much as I do? what do you think of the “for thee, and for myself” line? what’s your favorite Shakespearean sonnet?

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