Background of the Poem
William Shakespeare is one of the most well-known names in English literature. He was the most famous playwright of his time. He also used to work as an actor in theatre at that time. Later on in his life, he went on to buy shares of a famous theatre in London. Along with his occupation with theatre, he also wrote many English poems. Among these poems, there are 154 sonnets which were published together in a collection in 1609.
In the 1590s, there was a severe plague in London city which resulted in the closure of all the theatres in the city. During this time, he wrote his poetic pieces. Sonnet twenty-nine is also one the sonnets written at this time. Due to the closure of theatres at that time, Shakespeare found it difficult to earn his livelihood. Therefore, it can be said that these conditions led him to reflect on his miserable conditions in this poem.
Another event of disgrace also happened in these years. One of the University Wits playwrights, Robert Greene, made fun of Shakespeare’s writing in his diary. He wrote that Shakespeare is trying to imitate the University Wits and is an insignificant writer. He furthered by writing that Shakespeare is a jack of all trades. This meant that he was a master of none. This reason can also clarify why Shakespeare said that he is in “disgrace with fortune.” He must have been hurt by such comments made about him at the start of his career.
As far as the person addressed in this sonnet is concerned, there is no obvious clue in the sonnet. However, the collection of sonnets is usually considered to be addressed to two different persons. The first 126 sonnets make the first portion of the collection. These sonnets are addressed to a male beloved. The last twenty-eight sonnets of the collection make the second portion. This portion is addressed to a mysterious lady. Based on this information, it can be said that this sonnet is addressed to the lovely guy with whom Shakespeare was in love.
The poem is written in sonnet form, which is a tradition borrowed from Italy. The main features of this form are that it is composed in strictly fourteen lines, and the meter used is iambic pentameter. The Italian poet and philosopher, Petrarch, invented this form of writing poetry for the first time in the fourteenth century. In England, this tradition reached late in the sixteenth century.
In England, Thomas Wyatt was the first poet to practice writing poetry in the form of a sonnet. He followed all the conventions of Italian sonnets. Many other poets like Philip Sidney and Henry Howard also used this form in England. They made a few changes in it by introducing quatrains in it. Sonnet twenty-nine is confirmation of this tradition. It is composed of fourteen and is divided into three quatrains and a couplet.
However, the theme of this sonnet does not conform to the traditional themes of sonnets. Traditionally, sonnets addressed the impossible pursuit of the love of a god-like female beloved. However, this sonnet discusses the miseries of the speaker and the pleasant effect of the beloved’s thoughts on his mood.
Sonnet 29 Summary
The poem opens with the speaker describing his miserable condition. He says that when he finds himself in a state of failure and misfortune, he cries over his condition. He cannot bear the unjust treatment by his fortune. To add further to the injury, he is not only treated badly by fortune but also by the people of his society. He considers himself in union with no one. Nothing is favoring his side. So, he cries over his conditions. He cannot tolerate the fact that he has been announced an outcast by society.
Along with his weeping, he also tries to find some solace from prayers. He prays to the gods, but his prayers provide no gain. They fall on deaf ears of gods and are not answered. When his prayers face such a response, he says that he becomes more miserable. He considers his situation in the world and concludes that there is no comfort for him here. He curses his luck for all the worries he has in his life.
In the second quatrain, the speaker reflects on the thoughts he has when he is in miserable conditions. He says that he envies the fates of other people. He wishes to have the life of the person who has better hopes than him. He has lost his hope and cannot find to see any reason to live. Therefore, he envies the people who have high hopes in their lives. He also wants to have the fortunes of the rich people. Furthermore, he feels the vacuum of good friends in his life. He wants to have friends like the rest of the people.
His wishes do not end here. He says that he thinks of people with skills and wants to have their skills. These skills have rendered those people respectable in society, and the speaker wants to achieve the same respect. He also talks about the envying the scope of some people in society. He wishes to have that scope so that he could use it in his favor.
In the last line of the quatrain, the speaker confesses that he is not contented with the things he used to enjoy in the past. He is now fed away with all those things. He considers his skills and friends as lesser than those of others. This makes his condition even worse.
The speaker speaks about his shift of mood in the third quatrain. He says that when he is trapped in such a dejected state, he reaches the point that he starts loathing his own self. However, his mind turns towards his beloved by chance. This moment turns out to be vital in changing the mental condition of the speaker. He says that his mind starts singing hymns as a lark sings at the daybreak.
In the couplet, the speaker tells his beloved about the reason for his change of mind. He tells his beloved that the thought of his love reminded him of the great treasure he has. This treasure is so worthy that he is now not ready to swap position even with a king. The wealth of a whole country cannot match the worth of his treasure.
Themes in Sonnet 29
Power of True Love
One of the most major themes of this poem is the power of true love. The speaker creates a context of miseries and sadness to highlight the positive effect of love on one’s mind. He says that he is dejected and fed up with worldly affairs. He thinks himself as an outcast from society and curses his fate for all the bad things that have happened to him. In such conditions, love appears as a hero and saves his day. He is rescued from the tides of miseries and self-loathing.
This shows that love is a very powerful feeling when it is pure. It can do miracles to people and guide them through their lives. In the poem, the speaker asks the gods for help, but they do not help him. This shows that love is mightier than gods. When even the gods failed to help the poor speaker, love did in a moment.
For the most part of the poem, the speaker appears melancholic. He has miseries all around him in his life. In the very first line, he is in disgrace with fortune and people. This shows that he is badly treated by natural and social forces. Fortune is not helping him by making him face worrisome situations. Similarly, his society is not helping him to get rid of these situations. He is left all alone in the world. This state makes him say that he is an outcast from society.
The miseries of the speaker multiply when he sees that other people are granted things that he lacks. He wants to have the skills that other people have. Moreover, he wants to be as hopeful and as resourceful as some other people of his society are. This feeling of emptiness makes him more miserable. He blames his luck for all these things. In this sense, the theme of misery hovers over the poem.
The speaker of the poem talks a great deal about his envious feelings in the poem. He says that he curses his own fate and envies the fate of others. There are many aspects of others’ lives which he wants to own. He thinks that he should have the type of friends that other people have in their circles. He also envies people’s skills. He desires to have those skills as well.
Moreover, the fortunes and hopes of people are also the objects of his envy. These feelings are so strong that they overwhelm him, and he is not able to enjoy the enjoyable aspects of his life. His own life becomes dull and boring for him. In this way, envy becomes a major theme of the poem.
Even though it is not discussed overtly in the poem, the theme of religion plays a vital role in the overall content of the poem. The speaker says that he troubles the heaven with his cries but does not mention any answer in return. However, he mentions that heaven is deaf, and his cries are bootless, which suggests that he is skeptical of religion.
Furthermore, love serves as an alternative to religion by helping the speaker in his bad times. The speaker asks heaven for help, but his plea is ignored. On the other hand, he does not ask anything from love but still receives help from there. This difference in response highlights the superiority of love over religion.
In this way, religion is highlighted in a negative way in the poem.
Sonnet 29 Literary Analysis
The speaker starts the poem by referring to his miserable social status and says he has lost his position in men’s eyes. Here, the speaker employs the literary device synecdoche by referring to whole humans by using the word “eyes.” This device brings an artistic effect to the poem. He continues to describe his condition and exaggerates his poor social connections by using the term “outcast.” This use of hyperbole conveys his dissatisfaction over his current condition.
In the third line of the poem, the speaker explains his struggle to better his condition. He says that he troubled the gods with his cries. However, he uses the epithet “deaf” with the word “heaven” and “bootless” with the word “cries.” This personification of heaven creates the image of an indifferent God who does not want to hear the cries of the humans. He is troubled by them. In the next line, he blames this all over his luck.
In the second quatrain, the speaker describes his envy. He wants to have the hope, the skills, and the friend of other people. He says that his current condition does not let him enjoy what he used to enjoy in the past. He used words like “rich,” “featured,” and “possessed” to show that he lacks what other people have.
After the octave, the gloomy tone of the poem changes. The speaker starts using cheerful words and talks about his shift of mood. He says that with the arrival of the beloved’s thought in his mind, his mental condition changes drastically. He soon becomes happy and starts comparing this change to daybreak. He uses a simile to say that his mind starts singing just like a lark sings at dawn.
In the couplet, the speaker exaggerates his love and says that he will not even accept a kingdom in return for his beloved’s thought. The two lines are connected together in structure and thought, which shows the connection between the speaker and his beloved.
Sonnet 29 is written in the usual form of Shakespearean sonnets. It is composed of fourteen lines the meter used to write in iambic pentameter. The first twelve lines make three quatrains, and the last two lines are in the form of a couplet.
There are two distinct portions of the poem based on the thought they convey. The first eight lines of the sonnet form the first portion and are called the octave. This portion explains the depressed mental state of the speaker. The last six lines of the sonnet form the second portion and are called the sestet. This portion explains the happier image after the speaker starts thinking about his beloved.
The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is ababcdcdefefgg. However, the difference in this sonnet is that the “b” and “f” rhymes are identical.
The meter used in this sonnet is iambic pentameter.
The diction of the poem is made to suit the tone of the poem. In the first section of the poem i.e., the octave, the tone of the poem is gloomy, and the diction supports the tone. Words like “outcast,” “bootless cries,” and “curse,” etc. reflect this tone of the poem.
In the last part of the poem i.e., the sestet, the tone of the poem alters and becomes hopeful and cheerful. The diction of this part also follows this shift in tone. The words like “arising,” “sings,” and “sweet love” reflect the cheerful tone of the poem.
The tone of the sonnet is different in the two different parts of the poem. In the octave, the tone of the poem is sad and gloomy. In the sestet, there is a shift in the tone and becomes cheerful and hopeful.
Speaker of the Poem
The speaker of the sonnet is a lover who is living in a miserable condition. He/she reflects on his/her condition and describes his miseries. He is envious of other people who have better skills and resources than him.
Literary Devices used in Sonnet 29
- Deaf Heaven: In the third line of the poem, heaven is personified by linking the quality of deafness with it. This device brings the effect of creating an image of an indifferent god. In this way, the speaker attains the empathy of the readers.
- Sullen Earth: In the twelfth line of the poem, the earth is personified by linking the quality of being morose with it. This device is employed to create a vivid image of the morose mental state of the speaker.
In the thirteenth line of the poem, the word wealth stands for the happiness and love of the speaker. This device makes the happiness of the poem relevant to the context of the poem.
In the eleventh line of the poem, the speaker compares the shift in his mental state with the morning songs of a lark by using the phrase “Like to the lark.” This simile creates the image of a lark singing in the morning, which enhances the effect of the poem.
- Outcast State
In the second line of the poem, the speaker describes his lack of social connection by using the phrase “my outcast state.” This phrase is clearly exaggerated as the speaker is not an outcast but just not contented with the friends he has. This device is employed in the poem so that the miseries of the speaker are highlighted.
- Change my state with kings
In the last line of the poem, the speaker claims that he is so proud of his beloved thought that he will not be ready to let it go in return for a whole kingdom. This is clearly an exaggeration as no king will want to give his state in return for just a thought. This device intensifies the speaker’s claim that he considers the thought of his beloved better than anything.
Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound in a sentence in a poem. In the following line of the poem, sound /i/ is repeated:
“Wishing me like to one more rich in hope.”
Similarly, the sound /e/ is repeated in the following line:
“Haply I think on thee, and then my state”
Such repetition of sounds makes the poem more rhythmic and conveys the urgency of the speaker.
Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sound in a line in a poem. In the poem, the sound /s/ is repeated in the following line:
“Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising”
The repetition of the same starting sounds in a line is called alliteration. In this poem, alliteration is found in the following line:
Haply I think on thee, and then my state
The sound /th/ is repeated in this line, which reflects the abrupt change in the tone of the speaker. He is overjoyed by the thought of his beloved and utters rhythmic words as a result.
Enjambment is a literary device in which the thought in one line is continued into another line. In this poem, both the lines of the couplet continue the same thought. This device implies the mental communion of the speaker and the beloved joining the two lines in the poem.
Synecdoche is a literary device in which a part refers to a whole or a whole refers to its part. In the first line of the poem, the speaker uses the phrase “men’s eyes” to refer to his belittling in society. Here the speaker uses the word “eyes” to refer to the whole of humans.
The word “state” is used three times in the sonnet in three different meanings. In the first line, it means the financial and social conditions of the speaker. In the tenth line, this word refers to the mental state of the speaker. In the last line, it is used to mean the kingdom of a king. In this, there is a play on this word.