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.
A sequel to the previous sonnet, continuing the story of the lover's journey, and anticipating his eventual return to his beloved, when, as he foresees it, in his eagerness he will outrun even the fastest horse. On first impressions this sonnet seems to describe the return journey, but in fact it only speculates on what that journey might be, while in reality the speaker is still probably travelling away from the youth.
The poem is a remarkable tour-de-force of motion, with words of swiftness and slowness tumbling over each other. Almost every line contains some reference to the rapidity of desire or the dulling drag of reality.
Thus one finds slow; dull; speed; haste; posting; excuse; swift extremity; slow; spur; mounted on the wind; winged speed, no motion; keep pace; desire; dull flesh; fiery race; excuse; going, wilfull slow; run; give leave, go. These are not all words of motion, but in the context they take up the colours of their surroundings and, like the steed of desire, which is made of the most perfect love, gallop away on the wind.
There are considerable difficulties in attaching precise meanings to the thoughts expressed in lines 9-14, and that is perhaps precisely what we are intended not to do. The range of meanings is dense and elusive, suggesting both the speed of thought, desire, love and devotion, in terms of winged flight (Pegasus), fiery steeds, the winds, the sightless couriers of the air, the horsemen of the apocalypse, as well as the occasional reminder of the dull flesh, poor beasts and the muddy vesture of decay. But it is desire (of perfectest love being made) which in the end triumphs, as the poet rushes forward to the beloved on the swift wings of thought, and material means of transport are turned loose and given leave to wander and to pasture as they please.
The 1609 Quarto Version
THus can my loue excuſe the ſlow offence,
Of my dull bearer,when from thee I ſpeed,
From where thou art,why ſhoulld I haſt me thence,
Till I returne of poſting is noe need.
O what excuſe will my poore beaſt then find,
When ſwift extremity can ſeeme but ſlow,
Then ſhould I ſpurre though mounted on the wind,
In winged ſpeed no motion ſhall I know,
Then can no horſe with my deſire keepe pace,
Therefore deſire(of perfects loue being made)
Shall naigh noe dull fleſh in his fiery race,
But loue,for loue,thus ſhall excuſe my iade,
Since from thee going he went wilfull ſlow,
Towards thee ile run,and giue him leaue to goe.