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Shakespeare Sonnet 29: Easy Analysis and Meaning

William Shakespeare has been known for his spectacular sonnets, and the theme that runs constantly in these fourteen-line poems is love. Similarly, “Sonnet 29: When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes” is a sonnet about the overpowering nature of love. It is a part of the 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare and published in the year 1609.

Love can affect our mindset, guide us, make us better people, and especially make us start believing in ourselves again. In the poem, the poet has shown how love was able to save him from the world and also from his disgraces.

We are also facing comparisons and judgment in our everyday life what should we do in such a time, when we are hopeless? The answer is to believe in love and believe the one we love and it is going to be fruitful. We are going to believe in the wealth of love and richness of heart.

Sonnet 29: When, in Disgrace with Fortune and Men’s Eyes

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,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
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 remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Meaning and Summary

Shakespeare starts the poem with a pessimistic tone and narrates the poem as a story, therefore beginning with “when”. He tells us about the time when he feels unlucky and people look down on him, and he cried by himself, drowning in a lonely feeling. It feels that God has turned “deaf” to his” bootless cries” and he curses his life for the way it has turned out to be.

The first few lines is about self-pitying, and looking at one’s misfortunes, everything they do not posses, be it riches or skills. To be honest, anyone would be down a dark tunnel of pain, remorse, and regret if all they think about is the things they do not posses.

He wishes to be like other people, people who do not lose hope easily, who can face situations like the one Shakespeare is facing easily, people with better prospects, and people who have more influential friends. He desires to have “this man’s art” and the range of skills that the other man possesses.

The things that he enjoyed doing once upon a time, don’t even please him anymore. This shows how much the bitterness and the constant reminder of all the skills he lack has affected him. One only starts disliking things when they feel it is worthless. What could be worse than thinking the things you love to do as worthless?

But even though he is surrounded by this sea of melancholy, there is a happy island he has found. There is only one thing that can completely turn his state from sad to happy, from hopeless to hopeful.

Shakespeare says that the love of a person (whom he refers to as “thee”, speaking directly to him) is the only thing that makes him feel alive, and makes his life worth living. Just like a lark feels at the break of the day, he feels privileged and lucky to have the riches of the love his friend has for him. So much so that he would not trade places with a king.

Analysis of the poem

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,

The poem starts with the word “when” and what follows next is a phase of self-doubt that the poet goes through. When the poet feels disgraced by his fortune and the way other people look at him and judge him, he weeps by himself and feels alone. It seems that “heaven” has turned a deaf ear to his useless cries, resembling that God has stopped answering his prayers and refuses to listen to them.

This is something very relatable as the reason why he is crying cannot be changed. He blames fate, and his condition (a lack of talents and such) which can either be changed by working, or should be accepted as it is. Crying about it will make the Gods turn deaf to the pleas.

The poet looks at himself and curses his fate. He thinks of himself as someone who is very unlucky and alone, is always judged by people, and looks down on himself. This stanza is there to show his plight, his pitiful situation. We feel sorry for him after seeing his condition.

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,

Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,

Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,

With what I most enjoy contented least;

The next lines introduces another feeling that can destroy anyone’s happiness; envy. He wishes to be more “rich” in hope, to be beautiful like “him”, and to have more influential friends like “him”. The poet wants to have this man’s art and that man’s range of skills because the things that he loved doing the most, don’t make him feel content anymore.

The “him” Shakespeare is referring to is a skilled person. The name and specifics of this mysterious person does not matter for what matters is already mentioned. This man is filled with hope, skills, and art that the speaker can only envy.

It is after seeing the skill set of other people that he starts to doubt himself, that he starts feeling less content with what he does. Therefore, the moment we start to have this self-loathing attitude, we stop enjoying the things, once we loved doing the most. 

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 remembered such wealth brings

That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Finally we reach the Volta of this sonnet. The line starts with the word “yet”, giving the readers a feeling of hope about the condition of the speaker. Not everything is gloomy about his life, and there is one thing that makes him happy.

Shakespeare says that during these sessions of self-loathing and pitying, which is one of most depressing things anyone can do, he gets a thought of a person. Who this person is we do not know, but this person is someone special. Someone who has a lot of power over the speaker.

The poet feels that just as the lark sings the hymns at “heaven’s gate” and God is listening to it, similarly God has started to listen and answer the prayers of the poet. It is the love of “thee” that brings him wealth and happiness and it elevates him higher than a king. But who is “thee”? He is possibly the “fair youth” to whom so many sonnets are dedicated.

Themes in the Sonnet

The theme of the poem can be read as despair and self-loathing. Throughout the poem, the poet has tried to express how he despises himself and how other people look at him, surrounding the poet with their judgment. He feels in despair and cries alone with no one beside him.

He envies everyone that possesses better skills than him and he wishes to have more influential friends. The things that pleased him the most don’t make him feel happy or content anymore. He also feels alone because even after crying to God so many times, God seems to have turned “deaf” to his prayers and cries. He calls his cries useless in the eyes of God.

The next theme is the nature of love. It is because of love that the poet has started to feel joy again in his life. Here, we understand the nature of love and how it can make us strong to fight through everything, and helps us to become better person. It is love that helped the poet to not think about the skills of other people anymore but rather thinks about the one he loves. He starts to feel that God has started to listen to him and he has now become rich and wealthy in life because of love.

Form and Structure

Sonnet 29 is a fourteen-line poem, which is commonly referred to as the Shakespearean sonnet. The first twelve lines consist of three quatrains and the final two lines form a rhyming couplet. The last two lines provide a summary of the poet’s feelings about the “fair youth”.

The poem follows a rhyming scheme of ABABCDCDEBEBGG. The poem is written in iambic pentameter and this meter allows the poet to give a less rigid and natural flow to the text. 

Literary Devices

The literary devices used in the poem “sonnet 29: when in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” are:

Enjambment – The poet has tried to exhibit enjambment in the following lines:

(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Alliteration – A few examples of alliteration from the poem include:

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings

    That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Apostrophe – The poet has used an apostrophe to address “fair youth”. After reading the poem, we certainly know he is not present there, we do not even know whether he exists or not. An example of an Apostrophe is:

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,

Synecdoche – The poet has used synecdoche to explain what he means by “men’s eyes” in the first line of the poem. By this, the poet does not only mean other people looking at him, it also means that other people are looking at him with judgment and are showing him disapproval. The eyes are making decisions about the character of the poet, and it can be inferred that even the “fortune” is judging him just like men. 

Rhyming Scheme: ABAB CC (for specific stanzas and the last couplet)

Conclusion

We all have been in that phase of life, where we loathe ourselves and tell ourselves how every other individual is better than us, how so many times we have tried and nothing comes our way other than failures. But, we also have something that cheers us suddenly and uplifts our mood, our mood takes a plight just like the lark.

After reading the poem, I believe that it is through the power of love somehow that we can face such situations. It can be the love for something that we possess, the love for our family, the love for God, or just like Shakespeare the love for someone who is a part of our life.

That love makes us rich in life, it makes us wealthy by heart and I believe it is really necessary to have something like that in our life, something that makes us so happy by just thinking about it. It is the art of love that everyone possesses and it is on us how overpowering it can be on our minds and our heart.

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