I have recently become obsessed with Shakespeare’s sonnets. One that I particularly love is sonnet 27. It’s not one of the most well known of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but I think it’s as poignant as ever. Over 450 years after Shakespeare’s death this sonnet still seem relevant and touching. We are all familiar with the restless nights thinking about our loves.
This sonnet falls into the first section of sonnets 1 – 126 which are described as being written to the “young man”.
Sonnets 27-30 all share similiar themes of sorrow, sleeplessness and difficult seperation. They tend to have a meditative and reminiscent quality.
Sonnet 27 (Original Text)
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travail tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expired:
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.
Travail: in some versions of this sonnet this is written as travel. It could possibly have been a play on words, travail here means struggle or hard work.
To work my mind: my mind begins to work.
Zealous: fervent, impassioned.
My drooping eyelids: My eyelids, which otherwise would close to go to sleep.
Modern English Version Sonnet 27
This could be a very simplified version of the text.
Exhausted from hard work, I go quickly to bed, the comfy place of rest for a body that is tired out from labouring/travelling. But then I start to go on another journey in my head, my mind begins work after my body’s work is done for the day.
Because when I go to bed, my thoughts begin the journey from where I am sleeping, far away from you, to where you are (somewhere far away). These thoughts keep my tired eyes wide open, staring at the darkness like blind people do. Except, in my imagination, I see your image clearly, even though it’s pitch black and I can’t see anything else. Your image is like a shining jewel hanging in the haunting night, your image makes that old, black night look beautiful and young.
Because of you, my body does not rest in the day and my mind cannot rest even in the peace of night.
Hopefully now you understand the sonnet a little better you are starting to see the beauty and simplicity of this great sonnet. Keep digging and exploring and hopefully you start to find a passion for Shakespeare’s sonnets like I have.
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