Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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.

T
his sonnet by Shakespeare is a remarkable demonstration of the flux that goes on in the human psyche, and how abruptly self-perception will shift from one extreme to the other.

We are presented with a depressed point of view, the very attitude and frame-of-mind each of us know intimately. It's when we measure ourselves against others that we feel so inadequate. The "outcast" state springs to mind because suddenly we're fixated on our lack versus what others seem to possess naturally and have a sheer abundance of.

If only I had Richard's talents, or Geraldine's riches, or Samantha's good looks, or Marko's confidence . . . then I would be happy!

I know because my mind will often drift into this "sullen" sphere. Before I met my girlfriend, I believed my luck with women was horrible. There were so many men who "just had it"; it was something I couldn't define, but I was sure whatever it was I did not have it.

And I deeply resented this about my fate--I was destined to watch women flock to other men. When I contemplated my future, I was very much in the mind of Shakespeare's discontented speaker.

I all alone beweep my outcast state,

And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,

And look upon myself, and curse my fate,

The shift in the speaker's self-perception is remarkable because it represents the shift that occurs when we stop obsessing about ourselves and turn our thoughts to a loved one.

The fixed belief I had about my poor luck with women changed when I got a chance to spend a weekend with one woman in particular. Then my thoughts were set on her--not myself--and I was able to hear, if not the "hymns at heaven's gate", then maybe the chorus of "Mother of Pearl" by Roxy Music.

The last line of the poem enacts a complete reversal of the first in sense while it mimics the precise meter of the first line in sound.

Between the first and last line, Shakespeare has given us a microcosmic demonstration of the self. He dramatizes the process of self-reflection--moving from an embittered, deflated ego to an elated, love-swept self that affirms the Beatles when they sing, "All you need is love/love/love is all you need."

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3 comments:

VinaMist said...

I am deeply touched my love. You are the most honest caring man I have ever met. Every woman dreams of a man like you. I consider myself fortunate we will be together, forever soon.

Your love,

Teia

noor said...

People hate being compared to others, but often compare themselves to others. What may be "it" for some people, may not be "it" for others. But sometimes you don't want "Richard's talents, or Geraldine's riches, " you just want to be yourself, and that's when it gets tough because yourself is not enough for other people. Do you know what I mean? Anyway, I liked this post. :)

Lethe said...

Vina: I love you.

noor: You bring up a very good point, one which is more nuanced than my own but I don't think is entirely reflected in Sonnet 29:

"But sometimes you don't want "Richard's talents, or Geraldine's riches, " you just want to be yourself, and that's when it gets tough because yourself is not enough for other people."

Being myself is the practically the definition of never enough. So I know exactly what you're talking about.

Lethe

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