View Full Version : Sonnet #29

06-13-2008, 03:20 AM
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.

More... (http://www.sonnetaday.com)

06-15-2008, 06:00 AM
So powerful and yet so simple...
Love is the greatest solace available to man.

05-13-2012, 10:47 PM
My favourite!

06-03-2012, 09:27 PM
Love will set you free, I guess. As true four hundred years ago as it is today.

That reads very much like a prayer. It's very much a humble request at the start, I think; the saving love he recalls at the end isn't there at the start. It's a prayer: there is a plea, and then an answer. There are tears, and they are dried at the end of the poem.

05-11-2013, 10:27 AM
Have read this one many times for comfort.

Nick Capozzoli
06-07-2013, 05:58 AM
This is, for me, a memorable poem, which is to say that it's one of those poems that you read a few times and it engraves itself into your long-term memory circuits so you find yourself able to recreate it more or less intact any time you like by remembering a single line (like the first). This is one possible feature and maybe a definition of great lyric poetry. Unfortunately it's also true of annoying tunes and especially advertising jingles that sometimes intrude into your thoughts, so mere memorability doesn't define great poetry. For some reason, this is one of Shakespeare's more memorable sonnets.

I get the general meaning and would paraphrase and condense the statement (skipping over some particulars) to the following:

"When I am down on my luck, out of favor with society, feeling lonely, sorry and blaming myself, wishing it were otherwise, that I were like other more fortunately endowed people, when I get to the point that I almost hate myself, then you [whoever that is] pops into my mind and I begin to think about you...then my mood brightens and I see myself arising at dawn, like the lark [poetic cliché] from the mire of my depressed mood, cheerily chirping at heaven's gate...Why? Because merely remembering your love brings me such satisfaction that more than compensates my lack of all that stuff I complained about in the first 8 lines; indeed I not only no longer want to have that stuff, I actually despise it."

BTW, I do like this poem and the paraphrase is not intended to be critical. It's intended skeletonize the logical argument in the poem, so we can analyze it more easily. I want to call attention to the line:

With what I most enjoy contented least.

This line seemed problematic to me when I first read the poem more than 45 years ago, and it is still problematic. At first it was just that it stood out from the other lines...it particularly stuck in memory. After some thought it seemed that the real problem was that I couldn't seem to paraphrase it so that it would fit into the general paraphrase of the poem. Unlike the rest of the lines, which were more or less translatable, as regards plain statement, this one seemed to have on the one hand an amorphous and elusive shape-shifting quality and on the other hand to be dense and opaque. It is baffling, because the meaning, or at least the intent, appears to be clear. It could mean "what I like most [to do, to have, etc.] doesn't satisfy me." It seems to mean that liking and satisfaction are not identical, at least in my particular case. Or does "enjoy" mean "desire" rather than "like?" As in, "What I most desire doesn't satisfy me." "Desire" is different from "like." To enjoy something does imply that you like it. Desiring implies liking, but also implies that you don't have it yet, that you "want" it. To "want" is another way of saying that you "lack" something. Shakespeare has just been listing all the things he lacks, which have made him depressed. But there's also an element of enjoyment in desire. More importantly, however, to enjoy something suggests that you in fact possess it...though once again this is not absolute.

One could go on and on in this semantic analysis of "enjoy." It's really fascinating and I think wonderful, though it can drive you nuts.

I have to point out that there is nothing special about "enjoy," per se, that makes its meaning so ambiguous. In most other contexts its meaning would be crystal clear. It is in fact "contented" that confounds the meaning. "To be content" is more semantically stable than "to enjoy," which is to say that its meaning is less susceptible to shape-shifting. "To be content" remains more or less linked to "to be satisfied" or "to be happy" or other verbs that have nearly identical meanings, including even "to enjoy.". So why does With what I most enjoy contented least make "enjoy" so slippery? It is only partly because enjoyment and contentment seem nearly synonymous, and the statement seems to be an oxymoron. Oxymorons tend to call attention to themselves. Like paradoxes, optical illusions, or in general anything you perceive that defies common sense expectations, they force you to stop and think.

So, based on the potential meanings of "to be content," you could paraphrase With what I most enjoy contented least as "I most enjoy what I enjoy least." This may indeed be what Shakespeare meant, and it would fit into the overall paraphrase of the poem. There's a serious problem with that paraphrase. It ruins the overall apparent argument of the poem. The argument seems to be "I am miserable because I want so many things that I don't have. Suddenly I remember you and I realize this memory of you [and not that I have you...it's clearly implied I don't have you...just the memory of you] compensates me for what I [still] don't have but now no longer want. The 10th line (remembering you) is supposed to be the turning point when you realize the way out of your melancholic funk. If we paraphrase line 8 as "I most enjoy what I enjoy least," it implies that the author already understands what is fundamentally wrong: he has been seeking pleasure (or substitute any of the other potential meanings of enjoy) in things that give him no real pleasure...basically he has misunderstood what is really important in life. This is one expression of old philosophical and religious attitudes towards life and pleasure...e.g., Platonic, Neo-Platonic and early Christian ideals.

That is the problematic thing about line 8. It provides the answer to the poet's despair, while being listed in the litany of his complaints, and it precedes and in a sense upstages line 10, which is clearly supposed to herald the arrival of the answer. It may be that this is the way Shakespeare wanted it...line 8 does provide an answer, but it is hidden in the "dismal" part of the poem. Maybe it's presence there provides a subconscious clue that prompts the poet's happy recollection..."I've been enjoying things that give me no real enjoyment...hmnn, what ever made me really happy?...Ah, yes, now it comes to me." I suppose we could read it that way.

But if I really believed that reading, I'd have said so in two paragraphs and spared you all this rumination.

So I think there is more to line 8. It's not just an oxymoronic expression of some Neo-Platonic or Christian ideals regarding love or anything else (though of course it is that or could be. Could there be more to it? I think there has to be; the line still seems to squirm and want to shift its shape despite being pinned down. Whenever this happens you have to wonder if there's something you've missed, some other meaning perhaps buried within a word, something that you can't identify but tugs at you subconsciously. "Contented" seems to be the word that is doing that.

Shakespeare often used double entendres, and seemed to like bawdy ones, especially containing lewd references to body parts. I suspect that "contented" is one of these, the "cont" suggesting what you might imagine. I'm working on a paraphrase of line 8 with that idea in mind.

Wow...what a long-winded rambling post... Maybe what I just free-associated is complete BS...I mean this has all been about one friggin' line in a sonnet. But an amazing thing about Shakespeare is that you can digress about much of his poetry like this...You can't do that with any other poet, at least not on a regular basis. It's almost as if his lines are solid objects in the real world and not just strings of words. The more you dig into them, the more they seem to open up. It's like looking at a blob of some goo on a microscope slide. With the naked eye you see a blob of some gooey stuff, of a bluish color. With a hand lens you see that the blob some sort of oily sheen, which accounts for the bluish color you noted previously. You put it on the microscope stage and examine it under low power. You see little specks of dust floating on the surface. Switch to medium power. Wow, now there are little critters of various shapes swimming in and out of the plane of focus. High power and you're looking at little specks moving around inside one of the little critters. Then you prepare the blob so that you can exam a bit of it under a scanning electron microscope. More details yet! Eventually you're looking at molecules and atoms. You suspect it must stop somewhere, but you're not sure. Had you done the same analysis on any other poet's "blob" you would probably gotten to the bottom of it at 10X. Further magnification reveals nothing new. What you were looking at was an empty shell, a pretty façade, or Potemkin Village.

This is my way of explaining why Shakespeare is the greatest poet of all time. I know there is another thread on that topic, and maybe I should have posted this there.

06-25-2013, 11:52 AM
Interesting post. The inclusion of the word "contented" presented some trouble for me also, but I don't agree with your "translation" of it's meaning. I believe it's far simpler. I interpret it as "What I value most, I least GET to enjoy". It is the opportunity to enjoy those things, or the availability of these things that is lacking, NOT the appreciation of them. Ergo he bemoans that he does not have greater access to the things he would most like to relish. Does this make sense?