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.
This and the following sonnet deal with the heaviness of separation, caused by a journey which the poet has to make. He travels on horseback, the normal means of locomotion in Shakespeare’s day. The condition of the roads, heavily rutted and often flooded, made travel in carriages impracticable, other than in towns. Post horses could be hired from the frequent Inns which were situated along the highways and in the various towns on route. But travellers frequently would have their own horse, which would carry them between 20 or 30 miles in a day, a much slower method than hiring the post horses. Shakespeare refers to the horse in this poem as if it were his own. But in any case he is not much concerned to speed on his journey, since it only seems to lead him onward into sorrow.
It would be interesting to know what the journey was to which the poet alludes. Was it a trip back to his native Stratford, which tradition tells us he made on numerous occasions, choosing the Oxford route rather than the one through Ayelsbury and Banbury? But of course we have no means of knowing the answer to such a question, and it is probable that the two sonnets summarise the feelings arising from having to make any and every journey which the poet makes and which thereby sunder him from his friend.
Despite the melancholy of the poem, it is possible to find humour in the cleverness and wit in the description of the horse sharing the rider’s unwillingness to travel. One could even see it as one of the ‘sugared sonnets’ which amusingly depict the boundless love the poet has for his friend and which show how that love enters into every aspect of his existence, including the most mundane and tedious, as this one of going on a journey.
Sidney wrote a sonnet comparing himself to a horse, and another one extolling the highway, which might have the pleasure of kissing Stella’s feet. Both sonnets are given at the bottom of this page.