Sonnet 147

Shakespeare Sonnet 147

MY loue is as a feauer longing ſtill,
For that which longer nurſeth the diſeaſe,
Feeding on that which doth preſerue the ill,
Th’vncertaine ſicklie appetite to pleaſe:
My reaſon the Phiſition to my loue,
Angry that his preſcriptions are not kept
Hath left me, and I deſperate now approoue,
Deſire is death, which Phiſick did except.
Paſt cure I am, now Reaſon is paſt care,
And frantick madde with euer-more vnreſt,
My thoughts and my diſcourſe as mad mens are,
At randon from the truth vainely expreſt.
For I haue ſworne thee faire, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as darke as night.

Sonnet 147 continues the vein of thought found in Sonnet 146 and, if one excludes the aberrant Sonnet 145, in Sonnet 144. The poet’s delirium mentis, which prevents expression of truth, also recalls the madness caused by lust and the infected reason of Sonnet 129.

The initial metaphor establishes that the poet’s passion (“My loue”) is like a “feauer,” but the metaphor’s lines are blurred by “longing,” which can belong either to “loue” or “feauer.” Love, like a burning fever, incessantly (“still”) seeks that “which longer nurseth the disease,” either the poet’s own passion which nourishes the fever (“nurseth” is from ‘nursh,’ a contraction of ‘nourish’) or the mistress who harbours disease in herself or nurtures it in the poet. His feverish love takes its nourishment from “that,” again either his passion or the dark lady or the disease nurtured by her. Each of these can be seen “to preserue the ill,” to keep the illness in existence (an ironic use since “preserue” was normally used of good health), so as to satisfy “Th’vncertaine sicklie appetite.” An “vncertaine” appetite is an inconstant and irregular one, just as an “vncertaine” fever is a fitful or intermittent one; “sicklie,” associated with music as the food of love in Twelfth Night, is one that is weak or leads to sickness, but “sicklie” was also used, as was the Latin valetudo, of an unsound mind, so anticipating the sonnet’s madness (see Thomas Cooper, “Valetudo mentis. . . Sicknesse of minde”). 1

The poet’s reason is to his love a “Physition,” one who prescribes a remedy. A “prescription” was a course of action laid down by a doctor, the receipt he might write out, or, by transference, the medicine itself. The poet has ignored the instructions of reason or has refused to accept the remedy it could provide. Out of anger reason has departed the poet leaving him “desperate,” despairing and careless of outcome, and he learns from experience (“approoue”) the deadly nature of “desire,” to which the science of the Physician (“Physick”), the reason, has taken exception (“did except”). Reversing the proverb, “Past cure is past care,” 2 he claims that, since reason no longer cares or cares for him (“Reason is past care”), he is beyond cure (“past cure”), displaying all the signs of madness (“franticke madde”) with continuous or ever greater tossing and turning (“euer-more vnrest”). His reason (“thoughts”) and language (“discourse”) are as “mad mens;” his talk is “At randon from the truth,” with an uncontrolled rush of words (compare 1H6 5.3.84, “He talkes at randon: sure the man is mad”) and is unable to speak the truth (“vainely exprest”). The couplet introduces “thee” for the first time, turning from “My loue” to the beloved: “For I haue sworne thee faire” (repeated in Sonnet 152’s couplet). He may have thought the mistress beautiful and as the shining light of day, yet, both physically and morally, she is as “black as hell, as darke as night.” ‘As black as hell’ was proverbial. 3 The couplet’s vehemence may be tempered by the thought that to swear when devoid of reason is to swear without full consent, so with reduced or no culpability.

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147.1. TN 1.1.4, “The appetite may sicken, and so dye;” Cooper, Thesaurus valetudo.

147.2. Tilley C921; compare LLL 5.2.28, “Great reason: for past care, is still past cure.”

147.3. Tilley H397.

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