Sonnet for Advent 8: Sonnet 50

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16th-c. stirrups found in Shakespeare's Birthplace in the early 19th c.

16th-c. stirrups found in Shakespeare’s Birthplace in the early 19th c.

In Sonnet 50, Shakespeare’s unhappiness at being separated from his friend is compared to the suffering of the spurred horse that is carrying him ever further away. Surely this sonnet provides at least one example of Shakespeare writing from personal rather than invented experience. It reminds me a little of Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ which is also, as it were, written on horseback (so is Sonnet 51 which forms a pair with Sonnet 50). Incidentally, the stirrups you see in the picture are in our museum collection.

How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek – my weary travel’s end -
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
‘Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend!’
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed being made from thee.
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan,
More sharp to me than spurring to his side;
For that same groan doth put this in my mind:
My grief lies onward and my joy behind.

Click on the post below to hear Sonnet 50 read by Richard Bunn one of our Shakespeare Aloud! actors here at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

You might like to visit a similar Shakespeare for Advent project led by students at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Bruce Leyland

    Thanks for your comments on this sonnet Paul. As you know, I’m interested in whether the mysterious dedication to the sonnets is some sort of word grid – which is a “map” of the sonnets. Specific words in the dedication relate to specific sonnets. Sonnet 50 is intriguing because, as you observe, it correlates two types of pain – physical and emotional. The 50th letter of the dedication is the second P of HAPPINESSE – the first letter of the internal word PINE – the early modern variant of “pain”. Why not?

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