Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Green With It

William Shakespeare's 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 possess'd,
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 remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

It’s best to read Shakespeare aloud. The senses join hands to make the meaning clearer. This poem is fairly easy, though, and speaks to a state of mind easy to understand in the dark of January.

If one is a dreamer like me, or ambitious, like we all are in one way or the other, it’s easy to value what someone else does, is doing or has done. The poem’s speaker lists the ways others are more prosperous than he is. Others have a future as indicated in the words, “rich in hope,” and connections, expressed in “featured like him, like him with friends possessed.” There is no way of knowing what his true situation is, but the restless discontent in his heart is palpable.

Yes, those are thorns where the leaves should be.
He envies “this man’s art” and “that man’s scope.” I find this funny and poignant coming from Shakespeare because no one can touch him in art or scope. But there is a correct distinction between poet and the speaker of the poem. And if Shakespeare was writing a personal, confessional blog-like poem, it should give everyone else hope to know he struggled with envying others’ position and success. He may have been writing to speak to this aspect of being human. Or both.

The poem shows that Shakespeare understood the frustrating bitterness of envy. The solution that the poem proposes is that the one who "beweeps his outcast state"  to remember who loves him when he says,
"For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings/ That then I scorn to change my state with kings." His envy of others' success is cooled by recalling what is most important- love.

Is it enough to know love? Is it enough to value people and relationships? Why then must we always be called back to remember that it is the most important?  Because the other things dazzle as mirrors in the sun. The tension unspoken in the poem is that love inspires art and love is the first, most essential part of each person's calling. It must be the center, the inspiration; lesser goals must make lesser results as they also drain the soul of life.

To grasp the importance of love and thereby become comfortable with one’s gift and calling is indeed a state most enviable.

If you look closely, you can see a bird perched on the thistles.


  1. I love this poem too! Oh please keep it coming!

  2. I like this poem because
    1. you don't have to know "the code" to understand it.
    2. it was written a long time ago but it talks about things people actually go through