Sonnet 27

Shakespeare Sonnet 27

WEary with toyle, I haſt me to my bed,
The deare repoſe for lims with trauaill tired,
But then begins a iourny in my head
To worke my mind, when boddies work’s expired.
For then my thoughts (from far where I abide)
Intend a zelous pilgrimage to thee,
And keepe my drooping eye-lids open wide,
Looking on darknes which the blind doe ſee.
Saue that my ſoules imaginary ſight
Preſents their ſhaddoe to my ſightles view,                             thy?
Which like a iewell (hunge in gaſtly night)
Makes blacke night beautious, and her old face new.
Loe thus by day my lims, by night my mind,
For thee, and for my ſelfe, noe quiet finde.

In differing ways Sonnets 27 and 28 work the sonneteer’s habitual inability to obtain sleep. The conceit is also found in Sonnets 43-45 and 97-99. Similar tossings and turnings occur in Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella 38-39, Spenser’s Amoretti 87 and in a host of other poets.1

The sonnet’s initial images of “toyle” and “worke” are modified immediately by those of “iourny” and “pilgrimage.” The play on “trauaill,” both ‘travail’ and ‘travel,’ ties together the themes of tiredness and absence. The poet’s bed, towards which he hastens, is the “deare repose for lims with trauaill tired,” where “deare” means both ‘treasured’ and ‘hard-earned,’ while ‘to seek repose for travels/travails’ was used commonly. His “repose,” however, only leads to a further mental journey (“in my head”), which occupies (“worke”) his mind now that his body’s work is done (“expired,” with a hint of ‘out of breath,’ possibly even ‘death’). His thoughts, at a distance from himself (“from far where I abide”), are directed toward the beloved. They “Intend a zelous pilgrimage to thee;” “zelous” means ‘fervent’ or ‘passionate,’ while to ‘intend a journey’ was a Latinism (“iter intendere”) as was “cogitationes intendere,” to direct one’s thoughts, and “animum intendere,” to direct one’s mind. By Shakespeare’s time a “pilgrimage” to the beloved’s (saint’s) final place of repose was a hackneyed image. Thoughts of the beloved keep the poet’s eyes awake (“drooping eye-lids open wide”), as they look upon the natural darkness that those without the sense of sight see (“the blind doe see”).

Except that (“Saue that”) some vision is allowed the poet, that which issues from his “soules imaginary sight,” his imagination which forms images of things absent from the sense. His inner sight “presents their [thy] shaddoe to my sightles view.” If “their shaddoe,” then the shadow of poet’s “thoughts,” which contain the youth, is made to be seen by a sense of sight (“view”) that lacks sight.  If “thy shaddoe,” then the shadow of the youth is similarly made visible. His spectral form (“shaddoe,” hinting at ghosts and “shades of the night”) can, paradoxically, enlighten the darkness “like a iewell (hunge in gastly night).” Elizabethans belived that some jewels shone brightly in darkness, although the common view was contradicted and censured: George Hakewill, for example, in The vanitie of the eie, gives as an instance of the eyes’ “false reporting,” “the sparkling in the darke of precious stones.” 2 In Astophil and Stella, 38, when “sleepe begins with heauie wings” to affect Astrophil, the first thing that comes to his “mind, is Stellas image,” which “not onely shines but sings.” For this poet the night is “gastly,” full of horror and the ‘ghostly.’ The youth’s image transforms the darkness (“makes black night beautious”) and makes “her old face new;” “her” is either an identification of night as female (Latin, nox = night, is feminine) or a reference to the manes, the shades or ghosts of the night, which present as hags or old wizened women, whose lines are now lightened out. The conclusion’s parallels (“thus”) are compressed: his limbs by day ‘travail’ and find no “quiet” or rest; his mind by night ‘travails’ and finds no rest. He will “trauaill” with his body, because of the young man and for his sake, and will “trauaill” with his mind for the sake of himself and the young man and because of the young man (“For thee, and for myself”).


27.1. Compare Barnabe Barnes, Parthenophil and Parthenophe. Sonnetes, Madrigals, Elegies and Odes (London: J[ohn] Wolfe, 1593) 88; Daniel, Delia (1592) 23 & 45; Bartholomew Griffin, Fidessa, more chaste then kinde (London: Widow Orwin, 1596) 14-15; Giles Fletcher, Licia, or Poems of Loue . . Whereunto is added the rising to the Crowne of Richard the Third (Cambridge: John Legatt, 1593) 31.

27.2. Hakewill 50; compare TA 2.3.226-30,

Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
A precious ring, that lightens all the hole,
Which, like a taper in some monument,
Doth shine upon the dead man’s earthy cheeks,
And shows the ragged entrails of the pit.