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Summary of Sir Henry Wotton's poem 'Character of a Happy Life'

Updated on January 27, 2018

Summary of 'Character of a Happy Life'

The poet Sir Henry Wotton illustrates the character of a happy life:

The blessedness of a man, who is not a servant to another man's will is portrayed in this poem. His honest thought is his shield - an armour, and the truth that he abides in is his absolute skill; as truth sets a man free: free from the bondage of sin, fear, worries and many more. A man is adept when he uses the truth to set himself free.

He does not let his passions master him; and he is prepared for death. He is not conformed to this world; neither is he fettered by the love of this world, nor its foul offers.

He is not involved in rumours; listening to his conscience, he takes a strong hold of his being. He is not taken in by flattery, nor can mighty oppressors ruin him.

He does not envy those who are promoted by chance, nor by gross immoral conduct. Happy is that man who never understood, that the deepest wounds are given with praise; the happy man never permits other’s praise to injure him. Neither does he let the rules of the state govern him; rather he is submitted to the rules laid down by God. Peradventure the rules of the state is contrary to God’s character;


Explain the lines ‘who never understood how deepest wounds are given with praise’. Is it possible to be wounded by another man’s praise? What does Sir Henry imply?


In the fourth stanza Sir Henry Wotton describes a man who has never come to terms where another person’s praise has wounded him. He counts this character as a man’s happiness; because it is more likely that a man may accept the praise of another, and be puffed up; while he forgets that God is the ultimate giver of all gifts and all glory belongs to God.


Happy is that man who never understood the rules of state, but rules of good. What message does Sir Henry convey to us?


It is good that a man should follow the rules of the state when they are good. For there could be rules laid down by a dictator, which may not be beneficial to all; and which can be prejudiced or which can bar the poor man from certain rights, or even worse it could distinctly mark the rich from the poor causing a rift between them. Thereby the rules of the state can be contradictory to the nature of God. Hence the lines depict the choice that a man makes as described by Sir Henry is that choice which governs him - 'the rules' that God is pleased with.


Who God doth late and early pray

More of His grace than gifts to lend…Explain the poet’s thoughts and the character of a happy life sketched in these lines.


In the fifth stanza, the poet describes the character of a ‘happy life’. That man prays for God's grace at dusk and at dawn, rather than praying for blessings from God. He knows that God’s grace is more precious and it is always followed by God’s blessings; for it is the Father’s good pleasure to bless His children and crown them with the richest of all bounties.


Who entertains the harmless day with a well-chosen book or friend; Write briefly on the poet’s message in this line.


Here the poet portrays the character of a happy life; one who chooses a friend or a book to refresh himself in his leisure time. A day when all is well he is at his leisure; yet he makes the right choice to be amused by a choice book or friend, rather than delving in worthless tasks. He is more cautious to engage his time with tasks that can build his character and help him to be a blessing to others.


Describe the last stanza in your own words.


Here a harmless day is referred to a day when no evil tidings or adverse circumstances have marred it and it is a pleasant day. On such a day the character fringed by a ‘Happy Life’ is that he is not indulged in idleness nor in extravagance; but rather feeding his thoughts with goodness or sharing his moments with a good friend is more adorable to him.


--This man is free from servile bands of hope to rise, nor fear to fall…


In the last stanza Sir Henry Wotton marks the character of a 'happy life' as a man who is not a slave to the ‘fear that he will fall’ nor is he bound by the chains that cause him to lose his ‘hope to rise’. Graced by all these qualities although he is not owning lands nor he is a rich proprietor he is lord of himself thus making him lord of all. Though he does not possess lands and has nothing, yet he is rich and has all. Just as Christ said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall inherit the earth".


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