HOw carefull was I when I tooke my way,
Each trifle vnder trueſt barres to thruſt,
That to my vſe it might vn-vſed ſtay
From hands of falſehood, in ſure wards of truſt?
But thou, to whom my iewels trifles are,
Moſt worthy comfort, now my greateſt griefe,
Thou beſt of deereſt, and mine onely care,
Art left the prey of euery vulgar theefe.
Thee haue I not lockt vp in any cheſt,
Saue where thou art not, though I feele thou art,
Within the gentle cloſure of my breſt,
From whence at pleaſure thou maiſt come and part,
And euen thence thou wilt be ſtolne I feare,
For truth prooues theeuiſh for a prize ſo deare.
Sonnet 48 treats of absence and trust through the imagery of jewels and baubles; it shares its image of jewels safe under lock and key with Sonnet 52. There persists throughout an undercurrent of the sexual.
The poet’s emphasis on his carefulness before departing is undermined immediately by the suggestion of haste and secrecy in the action of thrusting: “Each trifle vnder truest barres to thrust.” A “trifle” is a trinket of little value, but its association through its etymon, truffa, which Florio translates as, “a cozening, cheating, conicatching, pilfring,” was well established; “truest barres” are either ‘bars of utmost truth’ (hence trust) or ‘bars that are straight or truly fitting.’ The poet’s purpose in placing what is valuable to him under lock and key is his own ‘advantage’ (“to my vse”): that they might remain “vn-vsed” and not be subject to “hands of falsehood,” filching hands to which knickknacks are prey. Locked away, they will be kept in “sure wards of trust” (playing with the homonym, “truest” and “trust”). A “ward” is firstly that part of a key or lock (the cavities of the lock or solid parts of the key), which allow only one right key (compare Luc. 302-3, “The lockes . . Ech one by him inforst retires his ward”) or a “ward” is a small place or room under watch or care, where jewels were kept safe, a meaning made explicit in Sonnet 52.10.
The young man, compared with whom the poet’s “iewels” are trifles, is “left” behind, free and unguarded. He is the poet’s “Most worthy comfort,” even if he is “now my greatest griefe,” either through absence or because of the poet’s worries. The youth is “best of deerest,” both ‘most beloved’ and ‘most precious or costly’ as a jewel; he is the poet’s only “care” (the root of “carefull” from carus = dear), his only ‘concern’ as well as his only ‘beloved.’ But, given the poet’s absence, he is ready plunder (“prey”) for every common or low filcher (“euery vulgar theefe”).
The poet has not locked up the youth in “any chest,” any ‘strongbox or place where valuables are kept,’ but suggesting also “brest,” other than in the very place where the youth isn’t present, even though the poet feels he is: “Within the gentle closure of my brest.” A “closure” is an ‘enclosed space’ or ‘that which is confined by “barres;” both “closure” and “closet” were used of the pericardium or heart (compare Sonnet 46.6); “gentle” implies ‘tender’ as well as ‘noble’ (contrasting with “vulgar”). Because of the poet’s gentleness the youth is free to come and go (“come and part”) either as he likes or for the purposes of pleasure (“at pleasure”). The poet’s final preoccupation is that the beloved might be stolen even from the safety of his breast, because he is booty so valuable (“a prize so deare”) that even truth might be corrupted and prove “theeuish” (compare the adage in Ven. 724, “Rich prayes make true-men theeues”).