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Shakespeare Sonnet 27: "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 27: "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed"

In sonnet 27, "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed," from the thematic group, "The Muse Sonnets," in the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker creates a little drama to show the depth of his dedication to writing his sonnets. During the day, he works, goes on journeys, and toils at his writing labors. And then at nighttime, when it is time to rest his tired physical encasement, the speaker discovers that he continues to envision the next poem. His mind has become so used to working on poems that he can almost accomplish the task in his sleep—or at least, in the moments before he actually drops off to sleep.

Sonnet 27: "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed"

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 expir’d:
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.

Reading of Sonnet 27

Commentary

In Muse sonnet 27, the speaker discovers that even when he is exhausted from a hard day’s work, his mind continues to plan and plot the outlines of his next poem. The speaker has become addicted to writing sonnets; he likely envisions a huge collection of these fascinating little dramas, which he looks forward to completing.

First Quatrain: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

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 expir’d:

In the first quatrain, the speaker reports that after becoming very tired from much work, he hurries to bed to get some much-needed rest for his weary body, but then his mind becomes very active. He has become tired from not only work, but also from travel, which in the sixteenth century was quite arduous. But getting himself to bed merely causes him to go on another journey, "a journey in my head." Although he is trying to rest his body after his physical labor and travel are finished, he seems to have to continue his labors mentally.

This struggle with insomnia caused by a busy mind has not only affected poets and other creative types. Because of that struggle, a multi-million dollar industry has arisen offering pills of every shape, color, and size that continues to be peddled by pharmaceutical endeavors claiming to assist the sleep deprived in falling asleep. This sixteenth century insomniac chooses to blame his failure to fall asleep on the promptings of his voracious art. It will be noted that this clever speaker can turn any adversity to his advantage, as he explores the issues of his life to gather material for his poetry and theatrical dramas.

Second Quatrain: Wondering Thoughts

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:

The speaker then addresses some entity, saying that his mind has begun a "zealous pilgrimage to thee." At this point, the reader realizes that the addressee could be anyone or anything. So the question becomes, just whom is the speaker addressing? Who is this person or thing that has captured the thoughts of the speaker, so that he is unable to rest his weary body, because of his busy mind?

The addressee appears to be remain far away from the speaker, as he claims, "from far where I abide." Although the speaker is tired and his eyelids are now "drooping," his thoughts of the dear addressee cause him to remain unable to fall asleep. Thus the speaker, though lying wide awake in bed in his totally dark room, keeps his eyes wide open, viewing only what "the blind do see," as he begins to contemplate and muse on his next sonnet. His addiction to creating his sonnets always leads him to that act, and now he is dramatizing how that act even invades his nighttime rest.

Third Quatrain: The Next Poem

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 the third quatrain, the nature of the addressee becomes clear: the speaker is again addressing his poetry, and probably more specifically, his next poem. His physical eyes see only the blackness of night, but his inner eye sees the filmy outline of the next creation that has already begun to burn its image within that inner eye. He colorfully and accurately labels that vision, the "soul’s imaginary sight." It is his soul that sees the perfect image of his next poem, and that vision "like a jewel" lights the darkness of his physical eyes. Those physical eyes act as a slate upon whose blackness the "beauteous" image with a new face is then fashioned out of the old one.

The reader has witnessed this speaker’s adoration and devotion to his art many times before in this particular thematic group of sonnets (18-126), and in this one that devotion is once again dramatized. The speaker refers to his next poem’s presence as a "shadow" which seem to become a positive image when seen against his "sightless view." His devotion to composing continues in his mind, even after he is physically exhausted and is lying down to rest. His busy, ever-seeking mind will not allow him to abandon its creative search.

The Couplet: The Laboring Mind

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

The couplet confirms that the speaker is all consumed in his love and devotion to his art: in the day time, he performs physical labor, writing and revising, traveling, toiling as he must to meet life’s duties and responsibilities. But in the night time, even after a full day of physical labor, the speaker's mind continues to labor in his devotion. His talent is demanding, and because he has acquired the habit of living for his art, his mind naturally looks always for the shadow of the next poem.

Anyone who has become accustomed to performing some belovèd act can identify with the speaker’s predicament in this sonnet. Although some exaggeration is surely involved, each bout with sleeplessness ingrains the speaker’s dedication ever more securely on his journey of sonnet creation. It, therefore, is likely that such dedication is never voluntary abandoned and whose eventual abandonment may be described as Emily Dickinson so colorfully did when she declared, "Because I could not stop for death – / He kindly stopped for me." While the little sleep may continue to eluded the speaker, he can be certain that the big sleep will not.

Shakespeare Identified Lecture, Mike A'Dair And William J. Ray

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

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