Thus can my love excuse the slow offence
Of my dull bearer, when from thee I speed:
From where thou art why should I haste me thence?
Till I return, of posting is no need.
O, what excuse will my poor beast then find,
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind;
In winged speed no motion shall I know:
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace;
Therefore Desire (of perfect'st love being made),
Shall neigh, no dull flesh, in his fiery race;
But love, for love, thus shall excuse my jade;
Since from thee going he went wilful slow,
Towards thee I'll run, and give him leave to go.
LI. If, to the poet, journeying away from his friend was distasteful and slow, the return will not be swift enough, even though he were mounted on the wind. He will then dispense with his horse, and run or fly back, riding on no dull flesh, but borne on the wings of Desire.
1. Thus can my love excuse, &c. In accordance with lines 3, 4.
6. Swift extremity. The extreme of swiftness.
8. In winged speed no motion shall I know. A swift gliding motion is imagined. In the opinion of Mr. G. Bernard Shaw, the word "motion" is used in the sense of "progression," implying that, even with "winged
speed," the poet, in his extreme eagerness, will seem to make no advance towards his friend.
10, 11. The poet apparently conceives of himself as mounted on Desire,
a winged fiery steed, which neighs with ardour, pursuing his impetuous
12. Love, for love. A difficult expression, of which, perhaps, neither of the following interpretations may seem quite satisfactory: (1) The words "for love" may be taken as meaning "from love to the poor beast," the
speed required by the poet's love for his friend being far beyond the powers of such a creature. (2) "For love" may mean "for the sake of the love awaiting me on my return." (3) Dr. Furnivall has made the suggestion that the "love" first spoken of is Love personified. AVe shall thus have "Love, on account of my affection," &c. (4) According to Mr. Shaw, "for love" means "on account of the love shown by the horse." This love will have been shown in the "plodding dully on" of 1. 6. "Wilful" of line 13 must then signify "purposely on account of affection." I incline to (4). This view agrees also with the "since" of line 13.
14. Give him leave to go. Dismiss him, or, let him go at his pleasure.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 10 Jan. 2014. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/51.html >.
Points to Ponder... "I don't think it matters much who "W. H." was. The great question is, do Shakspere's Sonnets speak his own heart and thoughts or not? And were it not for the fact that many critics really deserving the name of Shakespeare students, and not Shakespeare fools, have held the Sonnets to be merely dramatic, I could not have conceived that poems so intensely and evidently autobiographic and self-revealing, poems so one
with the spirit and inner meaning of Shakspere's growth arid life, could ever have been conceived to
be other than what they are, the records of his own loves and fears. And I believe that if the
acceptance of them as such had not involved the consequence of Shakespeare's intrigue with a married
woman, all readers would have taken the Sonnets as speaking of Shakespeare's own life. But his
admirers are so anxious to remove every stain from him, that they contend for a non-natural interpretation of his poems." (F.J. Furnivall. The Leopold Shakespeare, p.72.)