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“Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” is a sonnet composed by William Shakespeare that goes through the mental state of the speaker who thinks he lacks talent and opportunities. But later towards the end of the poem, he realises the wealth he possesses and the poem takes a cheerful turn.
About the poet
William Shakespeare is a world famous writer, poet and dramatist. He wrote 154 sonnets as a poet that explore themes of love, infidelity, jealousy, and death.
This sonnet is a fourteen-line Shakespearean sonnet with three quatrains and one couplet. The poem is composed in iambic pentameter. The tone of the poem drastically changes towards the end from dejection to optimism.
Summary and Analysis
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,
Whenever the poet faces bad luck and society looks down upon him, he cries alone to himself because he has no one else. He cries out to his God who never answers to his prayers and he looks at himself and curses his fate with regrets.
The speaker begins the poem by stating how unfortunate he has been. He mentions that he cries alone over his hapless fate when his luck does not partner him and the men look down upon him in disappointment. These men can be his business partners or general society.
He further says whenever he is this miserable he cries towards his Gods, for helping him to get over this misery. But Heaven is “deaf”. His cries or prayer never reach his Gods. The speaker mentions that he “troubles deaf heaven”, this reveals that he often faces this ill-fated destiny and is helpless. Therefore he turns towards the superior entity for help, and he has done that several times, which he believes is troublesome.
Yet no one is there to help him, not even God. He then looks upon his state and curses his fate. He is filled with regrets and powerlessness. So, he weeps over his worries and never stands up for himself.
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;
He wishes that he was more fortunate and possessed features like someone who is beautiful. And friends that will be influential. He desires he could do what an artist does or any successful person with skills and talents does. He wishes he had those skills as well. He further does not enjoy the things he loved before.
The speaker in these lines illustrates an idealised version of a man. This man is handsome, sociable, talented, and successful. The speaker wants to be more like this man. He wishes he was “rich in hope”, although this richness is to be implemented into one’s life. The speaker is simply not trying to have a positive outlook towards his life. Therefore, he is going down this tunnel of hopelessness.
These lines reveal the envious nature of the speaker. He believes that he lacks something that does not make him an ideal man. He wishes he had friends like this idealised version of a man has. This also reveals the timid and unsociable nature of the speaker.
In the next lines, the speaker desires to have the same talents and opportunities as this glamorised man. The speaker does not believe in his skill sets. Therefore, it can be said that he himself is holding him back and blaming it over his fate. As everyone has some skill or talent, it’s upon that person to believe in it and harness his skills for future opportunities.
The speaker then says that all the things that he enjoyed the most are not that pleasing anymore. This reveals the speaker’s mental state, he must be going through something that made him depressed. Although the speaker never reveals what led to this condition, it is sure that he feels he lacks talent and luck.
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.
Yet whenever he has these thoughts and despises himself over it, he thinks about his love and then his state is better. He feels like a bird on day break, flying above the ground and singing hymns at the heaven’ s gate. Because thinking about the sweet love of his beloved brings him so much wealth he will not give it up even for the kings.
These last lines change the whole mood and tone of the poem. The speaker was despising himself earlier over his fate. But in these next lines, he proclaims that all these worries go away when the speaker thinks about his love.
This love is the “fair youth” that often appeared in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Whenever the speaker thinks about his beloved, he is no more worried and depressed. He feels like a free bird that flies in the sky when the day breaks, high above the ground. He mentions the bird because he feels like singing hymns directly in front of the heaven’s gates. He is filled with love and joy.
And he cherishes his feelings and his love so much that he feels rich again. He no more wants to be like that idealised man that he compared himself to in the previous stanzas. He is so content by just the thought of his love, that he would not trade it for anything else in the entire world. Even if rich kings approach him, offering all of their wealth for this, he would instantaneously refuse as it means so much to him.