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Shakespeare Sonnet 29: "When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes"

Updated on October 7, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford



The speaker always remains down to earth and never boasts about his considerable talents for poetry creating.

At times, the talented scribbler, however, finds himself dismayed by his lot and especially about what others may think of him.

It is during those melancholy periods that the speaker garners much satisfaction from his ability to create lovely sonnets. Thus, he comes to acknowledge how fortunate he is to possess such a prepossessing talent.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 29

First Quatrain: “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”

In the first quatrain of Shakespeare sonnet 29, the speaker admits that there are times in his life when things are not going well, times when he thinks he is “in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,” and he feels like an outcast as he cries and whines and curses his fate.

It does him no good, but he complains and troubles “deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries.”

But all of this is merely set in an adverbial clause: he is beginning the sonnet with a “when” clause, which will have the form of “when this happens, then this happens.”

Second Quatrain: “Wishing me like to one more rich in hope”

The second quatrain continues the “when” clause but further describes the speaker’s discontent. When he finds himself feeling cursed and outcast, he might wish he were like some other man, “one more rich in hope.”

And not only one man, but also the speaker would like to look like some handsome man, or have friends like some friendly man, or he might wish he could create like some creative man, or be able to have the understanding of another man.

And all this envy of others causes the speaker to disdain the very things he loves most: “With what I most enjoy contented least.” He becomes negligent and oblivious even failing to find joy in the things in his life that usually make him happy.

Third Quatrain: “Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising”

So when the speaker is feeling cursed and outcast by others, and wishing he were more like those who are more acceptable, and these thoughts are making him “almost” hate himself, what does he do?

He thinks about his poetry—and suddenly his state of mind is transformed, “Like to the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate.”

The speaker quite appropriately likens his feeling to the bird that is known for its singing. The speaker in this group of sonnets consistently celebrates his art, his creation of poems/songs/sonnets.

The Couplet: “For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings”

The speaker has invested so much love and affection in his own art that it can only be that art that lifts his spirits when he becomes depressed with worldly activity.

But not only does the speaker's art lift him from the doldrums, it makes him realize he is better off than royalty because he has the ability to create art. When he remembers and cherishes his poetry, he would “scorn to change [his] state with kings.”

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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