Sonnet 29 (Shakespeare)
When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Go over the sonnet and determine its rhyme scheme; can you break the sonnet into different parts when you look at the rhyme scheme? Normally, a Shakespearian sonnet is divided into three quatrains and a couplet.
The rhyme scheme of Sonnet 29 is slightly different than a regular Shakespearean sonnet. A regular Shakespearean sonnet’s rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG with each quatrain having a new rhyme for its first, third and second, fourth lines. Sonnet 29 goes by ABAB CDCD EBEB FF which repeats the B rhyme used in the first stanza when he is writing his third. Even with the slightly different rhyme scheme, the sonnet is still divided into three quatrains and a couplet at the end.
Put the sonnet into your own words – paraphrase it as well as you can. Often, the entire poem can also be broken into two principle parts. Is this the case with this poem? How do the two parts compare?
Summary/Poem in my own words:
When I am in disgrace and down on my luck,
I sit alone and cry as I am an outcast
And bother God with my useless cries
And look at myself and curse my fate.
Wishing that I had more richness to hope for,
Wishing I had handsome features and friends like certain men do.
Desiring to have this man’s skills and opportunities
While I am not satisfied in the things I enjoy most.
Yet in these thoughts I almost despise myself;
By chance I think of you and then my condition
Feels like a lark at daybreak flying
Away from Earth to sing at heaven’s gate.
For when I remember your sweet love,
Then I would refuse to change places with kings.
The poem can be broken down into two principle parts: the first 8 lines, and the last 6 have a completely different tone and attitude. The first part of the poem is full of misery and self-despair; talking about a man who is down on his luck, while the second half is jovial and uplifting, because the man has realized he actually holds a very precious type of wealth. While the man in the first part is envious of others, the man in the second part realizes that he is actually one of the wealthiest people because he has true love.
What are the two moods contrasted in the sonnet? What kinds of men does the poet envy? What causes the poet’s change of mood in the second part of the poem? Judging by lines 11-12, what would you say the lark symbolizes to Shakespeare?
The first two quatrains speaks of a person who is down on his luck, wishing he was in another person’s shoes; a man who is full of self-hate and who wallows in misery. He envies other men, who have more friends than he does, or with better looks, or with certain skills which lead to opportunities. This man thinks that lack of money or social position is the determinant of his fate. Then, a light turns on in his head as he thinks of another person’s love for him, and all of a sudden, he feels as free as a bird in the morning. His attitude completely changes and, whereas before he was hoping to have certain aspects of other men, now he would not trade places with any king. The lark, which is by far the most vivid image in the poem, symbolizes the speaker’s spirit: he who once felt so low, is now being lifted to the gates of heaven. Being that it is not God that caused his change of attitude, rather another person’ love, perhaps this heaven is not heaven in the religious sense. It may symbolize heaven on earth, a feeling so great for the speaker that he feels a whole new richness that he clearly was not feeling in the beginning of the sonnet, thus his refusal to trade places with kings. The speaker realizes that, through love, his spirit is enriched so much that no King could afford to buy what the speaker is feeling when he thinks about his lover. I think this poem is very uplifting because God is found in love. Love is yet another gift that God has bestowed upon people and, when people are able to realize the power of love, they are not only truly happy, but feel fulfilled and closer to God as well because they reject the materialism that keeps us slaves to our base desires.