Poetry series week four!! I decided to analyze Shakespeare’s Sonnet 51 for class, and instantly regretted it because googling revealed it to be super hard to analyze and not fun at all, but I mean by then i was fully committed, so here’s my probably nonsensical analysis

Sonnet 51

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.


This sonnet is a sequel to the next one, beginning with “thus” to indicate this. It relies very heavily on the use of speed diction, such as “swift”, “spur”, “winged”, “haste”, and “speed”. In doing this, an image of a man riding rapidly on horseback is conjured in the reader’s mind. The exceptionally vivid vocabulary and the excessive usage of such speed words indicate that Shakespeare feels very strongly about the trajectory of his journey, and wants the reader of the poem to understand that as well.

In addition, Shakespeare makes use of many puns relating to horses, stating “Shall neigh no dull flesh, in his fiery race”. Although the Booth edition of our book suggests that this could be a typo, as it stands it adds to the frequent horse references scattered throughout the sonnet, and can perhaps be thought of as a play on the word “nay” in order for it to relate more closely to horses.

Shakespeare’s last few lines are far more complex than his poems usually are, but perhaps this was intended to make the reader think more about the passions expressed in the sonnet and feel the emotions of each word rather than think about the overall literal meaning. Despite the poem not making much sense in general, it is clear that Shakespeare feels a passion and urgency and is desperately trying to get back to his love, and this is conveyed more strongly by the fact that rather than saying something concrete, Shakespeare is too overwhelmed by emotions to create a sensible sentence.

let's talk

What’s your favorite part of sonnet 51? Have I inspired you to read all of Shakespeare’s Sonnets yet? do you disagree with my analysis?