Sonnet 29

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.

Footnotes

  1. The repetition of “state” suggests that the poem ends where it begins: the speaker is still obsessing over his material wealth and social rank in the physical world. Though he claims in line 11 that his state is no longer bound to the physical world, he still measures his life in terms of his relationship to his “state” or political/social position. This undermines his claim that his love saved him from caring about his position.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Monetary metaphors such as “wealth” suggest that the speaker is still tied to the physical-material world although he claims that he has “arisen” from “sullen earth.” This metaphor undermines the claim he makes within the couplet.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The speaker’s shift in perspective, raising his love to the highest value, finds a parallel in the poem’s rhyme scheme. In the third quatrain, the first and third line end with “despising” and “arising.” These words form a feminine—or multisyllabic—rhyme in which the “-ing” syllables go unstressed. The final couplet also uses the “-ing” syllable for its end rhyme, but with a major difference. Each syllable lands on its line’s final stress, resulting in a powerful, conclusive tone. The manner in which one sound — “-ing” — can be reframed and thus empowered mirrors the manner in which the speaker reframes his love for the youth to empower his own mental and emotional state.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The shift from the third quatrain to the final couplet marks a breakthrough in the speaker’s perspective. The speaker, in his state of deep lack, locates the one thing he does have: his love for the fair youth. In the final couplet, he raises and expands “thy sweet love” to a value above the state of “Kings.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The speaker mentions reaching out to religion for redemption in line 3—“troubl[ing] deaf heaven”—but to no avail. The reiteration of heavenly imagery with “heaven’s gate” is significant: the speaker finds redemption through romantic love rather than conventional spirituality. In a sense, this elevation and deification of the love object can be seen as a kind of idol worship.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Notice how the alliteration of s sounds in "sings," "hymns," at "heaven's" suggests a singing bird. There are four s sounds in the three words: "sings" begins and ends with an s and therefore the word "hymns," with its soft initial consonant, is similarly bracketed by s sounds. Shakespeare uses the word "sweet" in the very next line, an echo of the singing lark that has soared out of sight.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. “This” and “that" are both stressed syllables in this line. The emphasis placed on these demonstrative pronouns suggests a specific object for the speaker’s jealousy and conveys the feeling of the speaker’s frantically shifting gaze.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The phrase “sullen earth” evokes the pathetic fallacy. The external description of the earth reflects the speaker’s internal state: sullen and lowly. By beginning the line with “sullen earth,” the speaker sets the stage for the ascent to “heaven’s gate.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The repetition of “like him” in successive iambs conveys the speaker’s frantic state of comparison. In a cleverly self-conscious twist, the use of identical phrases imitates the speaker’s desire to be identical to the wealthier men around him. The word “like” appears four times throughout the sonnet, underscoring the speaker’s outward-looking desire to be “like” others.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Like “state,” the meaning of “arising” mixes the spiritual and physical world. One can “rise” in fortune, rank, or sleep. It can also metaphorically signal a “rising” out of depression or similar dejected mental state. “Arises” in this line blends all of these images to equate the ebbing movement of all desires in this poem: the speaker’s desired objects or states are all subject to rising and falling.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Figuratively, “rich” indicates the comparatively large amounts of hope other men have. That hope can refer to gain in any number of fields: status, skill, friendships. But the literal definition of “rich” injects a connotation of wealth as the hoped-for object.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. In this metaphor, the speaker imagines his “state,” rather than his unchanging love or self, singing praises to his lover. The repetition of “state” destabilizes the claims of the poem because state is never fixed and constantly changing. This suggests that the speaker’s mind is less at ease at the end of the poem then he would have his audience believe.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. “Bootless” means hopeless or useless. It invokes connotations of poverty and a lack of material possessions. In characterizing his “cries” to heaven as “bootless,” the speaker suggests that his cries go unheard because they are poor, impoverished, or lacking. This claim is slightly ironic, however, as the Christian tradition believes that a lack of material wealth makes a person more pious and close to God. Despite the spiritual backdrop of poverty equating to piety, the speaker’s lack of material or social wealth does not afford him any religious salvation. As will become clear later in the poem, he sees the love object as redemptive.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The repetition of “state,” meaning both mental state and one’s social rank, demonstrates the speaker’s changing nature and the underlying tension between the physical world and the spiritual world.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. The extra syllable at the end of this line throws off its iambic pentameter. The line consists of two iambs and a trochee. The extra syllable comes from inserting “my” between “with” and “bootless.” The speaker’s possession of the cries causes the poetic meter to fall apart.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. In this line, “thee” saves the speaker from the sin of despair. “Thee” redeems the speaker in the way that religion and piety can not. In this way, the love object displaces God as a type of false idol.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. The internal rhyme within this line works against its readability. In “I all alone,” the “I” blends with the double “L” in all. “All” and “alone” repeat the same syllable and make the three words indistinguishable. “All” is inserted between “I” and “alone’ to stress the first syllable in “alone” within the second iamb. Conforming to iambic pentameter within this line makes the line less strong and undermines the speaker’s poetic prowess.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. “Outcast state” is an internal rhyme between the last syllable of “outcast” and first syllable of “state.” This consonant pair occurs sequentially, which makes the line sonically clunky and hard to say.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. “What I most enjoy” here means the speaker’s ability to create poetry; even his poetry does not offer him solace. The form of this line reflects the content as “least” resolves “possessed” with an unsatisfyingly weak rhyme.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. “State” here refers to both the speaker’s mental state and his social status or rank. This could suggest that the speaker’s social rejection is a result of or fabrication in his mind.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. “Fortune” here may denote wealth, suggesting a state of literal poverty. “Fortune” may refer to the “Rota Fortunae” or “wheel of fortune,” a conception of fate popular in Roman and medieval Europe. The wheel symbolizes the fickleness and unpredictability of fate. As the wheel turns, one can experience sudden shifts in circumstance, whether it be a blessing or a hardship. From this perspective, one can see the poem’s events as tracing the wheel’s turn from low to high.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. “Enjoy” means both to take delight in and to possess. After listing all of the things that he does not have, the speaker’s only possession, poetry, does not resolve his anguish. This line contradicts the previous poems in which the speaker claimed that his poetry could redeem and give eternal life to the youth. Here, the speaker claims that poetry actually offers no answers to his worries and illustrates his all consuming despair.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. “Disgrace” in this context evokes both religious and political meanings. To fall from grace in God’s eyes is when one’s sinful nature casts them out of an Edenic state. In a political context, it means to lose one’s position of favor, generally though an impropriety that causes the Queen to take away titles or privileges. The speaker uses this word to show that his faults have made him fall out of both social favor and moral character.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff