Sonnet 50

Shakespeare Sonnet 50

HOw heauie doe I iourney on the way,
When what I ſeeke (my wearie trauels end)
Doth teach that eaſe and that repoſe to ſay
Thus farre the miles are meaſurde from thy friend.
The beaſt that beares me, tired with my woe,
Plods duly on, to beare that waight in me,
As if by ſome inſtinct the wretch did know
His rider lou’d not ſpeed being made from thee:
The bloody ſpurre cannot prouoke him on,
That ſome-times anger thruſts into his hide,
Which heauily he anſwers with a grone,
More ſharpe to me then ſpurring to his ſide,
For that ſame grone doth put this in my mind,
My greefe lies onward and my ioy behind.

Sonnets 50 and 51 comprise a pair of sonnets, whose principal conceit is that of horsemanship. It was a common and often sexually suggestive exercise: Sidney in Astrophil and Stella 49 has Cupid astride Astrophil, astride his horse:

I on my horse, and Loue on me doth trie
Our horsmanship, while by strange worke I proue,
A horsman to my horse, a horse to Loue;

The opening to Sonnet 50 has the poet travelling from the “friend,” with both heavy limbs and heavy heart. The “end” of the “wearie” journey, both its purpose and its conclusion, lies ahead of him and will provide “ease,” that is ‘food’ or ‘relief’ (compare Matt. 11.25; GV: “Come vnto me all ye that are wearie . . and I will ease you”) and rest (“repose”). But relief and rest serve only to remind (“teach”) him how far distant he is from his friend (“Thus farre the miles are measurde from thy friend”).

The floating phrase, “tired with my woe,” can qualify either “beast” or “me;” “tired” can mean ‘wearied,’ but could aphetically be ‘attired with woe.’ The monotony of “Plods” is carried on by “duly,” either ‘dully’ or ‘without spirit,’ or, as printed, ‘dutifully.’ The nag carries the “waight,” the poet’s physical load or the burden of his heart, as if moved by “some instinct,” by something natively equine, that lets him “know” that the poet does not willingly hasten from his friend. The poet’s spur, though bloodied by frequent use, cannot urge it onward, a “dull” or resty horse being one unresponsive to the spur (“The bloody spurre cannot prouoke him on”). The spurring results from the poet’s fitful anger at being carried from the friend (“some-times anger thrusts into his hide”). The horse responds morosely (“heauily”) with a groan, which goads the poet more painfully (“sharply”) than his raking the horse. The couplet explains why: the horse’s groan reminds him that his travel’s end is one of “greefe,” because his “joy,” his friend, lies behind; “onward” and “behind” are both spatial and temporal referents.