Shakespeare Sonnets 23–30 - Owlcation - Education
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Shakespeare Sonnets 23–30

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Shakespeare Sonnet 23: "As an unperfect actor on the stage"

The speaker in Sonnet 23 reveals that human failures have caused his lack of skill in professing love; thus, he hopes his writing skill will properly portray his heart.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 23

The speaker in Sonnet 23 has a strong wish to dramatize the love that resides within his being. He thus admonishes his readers to acquire the skill required for reading poetry with understanding and appreciation.

This poet/speaker places great importance on his art, for he remains certain that only his art is capable of expressing clearly and convincingly his true feelings. Because his physical tongue too often becomes paralyzed in attempting to express deep, strong emotion, he must rely on the word writ across the page to express that affection.

As an unperfect actor on the stage

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burden of mine own love’s might.
O! let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.
O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

Reading of Sonnet 23

Commentary on Sonnet 23

Human failures have caused the speaker to lack skill in professing love. He, therefore, anticipates that his considerable writing skill will properly portray his heart.

First Quatrain: An Actor With Stage Fright

As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart;

In the first quatrain, the speaker asserts that he is like a fearful actor on a stage who has difficulty with his lines because of stage fright. But he also resembles "some fierce thing" that is weakened because of rage.

The speaker is portraying the timidity and emotion that prevent him from expressing the love that he feels. It is quite fitting that a playwright and theatre worker would use the "actor" to portray his feelings.

Second Quatrain: Fear Limits Ability to Move

So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love’s rite,
And in mine own love’s strength seem to decay,
O’ercharg’d with burden of mine own love’s might.

The speaker then asserts that for "fear of trust" he is unable to speak the necessary words for the "ceremony of love’s rite." He claims that the intensity of his love seems "to decay" under its own strength. The reader will easily recognize the speaker’s predicament.

When emotion is strong, it sometimes limits logical responses. Fear especially restricts the ability to act as one needs. The speaker frames his claim, noting that his strong love overcomes that love’s own power.

Third Quatrain: Begging for the Muse to Intercede

O! let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express’d.

The speaker's humility in alleging that his has an inability to speak eloquently leads him to quip, ""books be then the eloquence / And dumb presagers of my speaking breast."

That which is in his deep heart weighs far more significantly than that which may be expressed by his tongue.

Readers have already observed that the muse sonnet's demonstrate the poet's vital talent in composing poems. Thus it remains not unusual for this speaker to address his talent asking it to assist him in overcoming his human flaws as he attempts to express his emotion.

Couplet: Begging Readers to Learn to Read

O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit.

In the couplet, the speaker addresses his future readers, admonishing them to "learn to read what silent love hath writ: / To hear with eyes belongs to love’s fine wit." By reading the speaker’s words, which portray a silent eloquence, the reader can enjoy his fine portrayals of love.

The speaker desires so much to express the love that is in his heart, and his command to readers that they become skillful in reading poetry once again dramatizes the importance this speaker places on his art and his certainty that his art will express his feelings, even if his physical tongue is overcome by his strong emotion.

Shakespeare Sonnet 24: “Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d”

The speaker in Sonnet 24 compares the art of poetry to the art of painting, revealing the importance of heart-felt love in the creation of art.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 24

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 24 deeply loves his art; therefore, he not only employs it to express his emotions, but he also employs it to feel those emotions even more strongly. This speaker appreciates his talent, which rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart. He disdains artists whose works remain superficial, speaking only about that which they can see and hear with the physical senses.

This deeply talented speaker lives a spiritual life, exploring not only the heart and mind, but also the soul. It is, after all, the soul that offers the artist the greatest insights. This sonneteer urges poets, painters, and other artists to live more deeply, in order to express more than decorated beauty.

Sonnet 24

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.
For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.
Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;
Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

Reading of Sonnet 24

Commentary on Sonnet 24

The speaker in Sonnet 24 compares the art of poetry to the art of painting, revealing the importance of heart-felt love in the creation of art.

First Quatrain: The Poetic Form

Mine eye hath play’d the painter and hath stell’d
Thy beauty’s form in table of my heart;
My body is the frame wherein ’tis held,
And perspective it is best painter’s art.

In the first quatrain, the speaker informs his poem that like a painter he has captured the poem’s beautiful form and now keeps it locked in his heart. With that image placed in the central location of the heart, his body functions as a picture "frame" to hold that form.

The speaker further makes the claim that "perspective it is best painter’s art." This point of view reveals that the best artist has a deeply felt "perspective" or attitude toward his subject and that "perspective" or attitude is the force that propels his creativity.

Second Quatrain: Skill and Comprehension

For through the painter must you see his skill,
To find where your true image pictur’d lies,
Which in my bosom’s shop is hanging still,
That hath his windows glazed with thine eyes.

Also continuing his comparison of the poet to the painter, the speaker insists that the viewer for, reader of, or audience to the artist can comprehend the artist’s creations only by taking note of "his skill."

This speaker is inviting criticism of his art, and he portrays a confidence that his skill can win over any audience. He not only knows he has talent, but he also loves his talent and is grateful to God for granting him that talent. The speaker explains, "To find where your true image pictur’d lies," you must realize that the creations are in the artist’s heart—at least the artist, whose eyes are cast lovingly upon his own works, as the speaker/poet insists his are.

Third Quatrain: Love of Art

Now see what good turns eyes for eyes have done:
Mine eyes have drawn thy shape, and thine for me
Are windows to my breast, where-through the sun
Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee;

Then the speaker reveals that the artist’s eyes can do marvelous creations when they are lovingly cast upon his works. His works look back at him and reflect the love the artist feels for his creations.

They do each other "good turns" because each is brightened by that love, as if "where-through the sun / Delights to peep, to gaze therein on thee."

The Couplet: Art of the Profound

Yet eyes this cunning want to grace their art,
They draw but what they see, know not the heart.

This speaker demonstrates that he is interested in art that expresses more than mere superficialities. He complains that too many intelligent poets, painters and artists of all stripes merely offer decorated products that do little more than show off egotistically motivated urges.

This speaker lives and breathes on a more spiritual level; thus he insists on filling his own poetry with spiritual truths, truths that live in the deep heart, not merely on the surface. This speaker urges poets to write from depth of being, not simply parrot surface findings. He also urges painters to concentrate on more substantial fare than only "draw what they see."

This speaker is deeply in love with his art, and therefore he not only uses it to express his emotions, but he also uses it to feel them more abundantly. The speaker lives deeply in his talent, and his talent rewards him with a keen understanding of his own heart.

Shakespeare Sonnet 25: "Let those who are in favour with their stars"

The speaker in Sonnet 25 claims that only unconditional love is worth cherishing—fame and status are fleeting, but love will continue to give joy and gladness.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 25

Once again, the speaker is honoring his talent because the love he speaks of is not limited to that of another human being. Many of these poems in this group 18-126 address the poem directly, or speak about the happiness and enrichment the speaker derives from being able to compose such poems.

This speaker is in love with his talent, and he considers his achievement more important than the approval of any other human being. The speaker in Sonnet 25 is asserting that only unconditional love is worthy of one's attention because fame and status are nothing but fleeting favors, while love will continue to give joy and gladness, along with the sustenance each human heart craves.

Sonnet 25

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.
Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:
Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.

Reading of Sonnet 25

Commentary on Sonnet 25

The speaker in Sonnet 25 claims that only unconditional love is worth cherishing—fame and status are fleeting, but love will continue to give joy and gladness.

First Quatrain: High Regard Personally

Let those who are in favour with their stars
Of public honour and proud titles boast,
Whilst I, whom fortune of such triumph bars,
Unlook’d for joy in that I honour most.

In the first quatrain, the speaker states that those famously honored by the public may “boast” of their accomplishments, while he, who has attained no such exalted status, will remain inconspicuous as he continues to enjoy that which he personally holds in high regard.

At this point, the reader does not become aware of what it is the speaker treasures above name and fame and must wait until the couplet to find out what it is.

One might argue that the speaker is also “boasting” as he makes his own humble situation sound more attractive than those famous ones who garner public attention.

They have their “proud titles” while he delights in what he implies is something more substantial.

Second Quatrain: Humility Wins

Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread
But as the marigold at the sun’s eye,
And in themselves their pride lies buried,
For at a frown they in their glory die.

Even the favorite celebrities rewarded and regaled by royalty hold a position no higher than a simple flower such as the marigold, who has the attention of the sun, but without that attention, the flower shrivels up and dies.

And when the fame wears off and the “princes” no longer look favorably upon those famed individuals, their “glory” simply dies, as the glory and beauty of the marigold does.

Third Quatrain: Twin Fickle Partners—Fame and Favor

The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil’d,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil’d:

The third quatrain finds the speaker offering yet a further description of those twin fickle partners—fame and favor. Even battle-scarred formerly winning warriors continue to be afforded high regard only if they keep on winning. If a loss comes to these hero-warriors, they lose their accolades and are “from the book of honour” deleted. The poor warrior's “thousand victories” then are not enough to keep him in high regard, so he has toiled in vain in this speaker's opinion. The speaker wants to the reader to see that trying to elevate one’s self by deeds that win the attention of others is a vain activity.

The Couplet: Vain Strivings

Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.

So the speaker says that the great warriors and politicians and others who rely on the good will of authorities and the public can have their vain strivings. For him, he is happy because of love: he is made happy by being able to love and to be loved. He honors unconditional love, which “may not remove or be remov’d.” And the place where this speaker's unconditional love finds its ground and movement is in his art. His poems receive his love and reflect it back permanently and without condition.

Shakespeare Sonnet 26: "Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage"

The speaker in sonnet 26 acknowledges his duty to write poems. His talent is his Lord, and he promises to perform his duty without becoming boastful.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 26

The speaker in sonnet 26 is offering recognition to his art as he assumes his duty to write poems. He accepts the burden that his singular talent places on him, and he assures his Muse that will continue to accept and perform his duty without becoming a boastful braggart. This speaker realizes that his talent is God-given, and it remains a precious gift that he must practice, in order to keep it new and viable. The speaker considers his Muse an envoy from the Divine Creator. He takes his mission very seriously as we promises to respect and honor his Creator.

Sonnet 26

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written ambassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:
Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought, all naked, will bestow it;
Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tatter’d loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:
Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

Reading of Sonnet 26

Commentary on Sonnet 26

The speaker in sonnet 26 acknowledges his duty to write poems. His talent is his Lord, and he promises to perform his duty without becoming boastful.

First Quatrain: Addressing His Talent and Skill

Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage
Thy merit hath my duty strongly knit,
To thee I send this written ambassage,
To witness duty, not to show my wit:

The reader has witnessed in early sonnets how the speaker at times addresses his poems and at other times address he addresses his ability to write poems. In sonnet 26, it is the latter: the speaker addresses his talent as “Lord of my love.”

The first quatrain opens with the speaker telling his God-given talent that he is offering this poem to confirm his willing acceptance of the duty his writing talent has placed upon him. This speaker is not writing these quaint little verses merely to show off his intelligence, thereby puffing up his own ego; oh, no! he is writing because he recognizes his true calling, which acts, in effect, as a duty that his significant talent demands from him.

Second Quatrain: No Special Intelligence

Duty so great, which wit so poor as mine
May make seem bare, in wanting words to show it,
But that I hope some good conceit of thine
In thy soul’s thought, all naked, will bestow it;

The speaker admits humbly that he has no special intelligence; as a matter of fact, he claims his “wit” is “poor.” And compared to great duty imposed upon him by his talent in creating verse, his wit seems “bare.” But the speaker invokes the presence of this spiritual gift in hopes that its “good conceit” will inspire him to create despite his lacking “words to show it.” The speaker refers to “thy soul’s thought” as being “all naked” which indicates that the very heart of the living presence that bestows his talent is not dressed up with material colors and textures but, instead, is pure because it is unadorned.

And the speaker's invocation is like a prayer as he supplicates for guidance in using his talent for pure purposes. Also, as the reader has seen before, the speaker professes that his talent and his love are identical. Therefore, that he addresses his God-given talent as “Lord of my love” becomes even more understandable.

Third Quatrain: Remaining Humble

Till whatsoever star that guides my moving
Points on me graciously with fair aspect,
And puts apparel on my tatter’d loving,
To show me worthy of thy sweet respect:

After calling for divine direction, the speaker then submits that he will need such guidance until he can safely maneuver without it or until the “star that guides my moving / Points on me graciously with fair aspect.” The speaker tries to remain utterly humble, never taking credit alone for his creations. Instead of his own hand, he credits his “star” with putting “apparel on my tatter’d loving / To show me worthy of thy sweet respect.”

Even though the speaker acknowledges that he has this writing talent, he can never feel that he alone is the creator. As he quietly and surreptitiously avers that his talent comes from the Divine Spirit or God, he never overtly names God, but does name God’s divine agents such as the stars.

Couplet: God's Grace and Guidance

Then may I dare to boast how I do love thee;
Till then not show my head where thou mayst prove me.

After the speaker has been the beneficiary of God’s grace and guidance and through the divine maneuvering of the stars, if he can show himself “worthy of [God’s] sweet respect,” then he may boast to the world of his love of Spirit that has invested in him a special talent. But until such time as the speaker can display perfectly his divine gift, he will not “show [his] head.” For so doing, he would open himself to divine retribution, if he were wrong.

Shakespeare Sonnet 27: "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed"

This speaker of this group of Shakespeare’s sonnet discovers that even when he is exhausted from a hard day’s work, his mind is wide-awake thinking about his next poem.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 27

In sonnet 27, "Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed," the speaker creates a little drama to show the depth of his dedication to writing his sonnets. During the day, he works, goes on journeys, toils at his writing labors.

And then at nighttime, when it is time to rest his tired physical encasement, the speaker discovers that he continues to envision the next poem. His mind has become so used to working on poems that he can almost accomplish the task in his sleep—or at least, in the moment before he actually drops off to sleep.

Sonnet 27

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

Reading of Sonnet 27

Commentary on Sonnet 27

This speaker of this group of Shakespeare’s sonnet discovers that even when he is exhausted from a hard day’s work, his mind is wide-awake thinking about his next poem.

First Quatrain: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:

In the first quatrain, the speaker reports that after becoming very tired from much work, he hurries to bed to get some much-needed rest for his weary body, but then his mind becomes very active. He has become tired from not only work, but also from travel, which in the 16th century was quite arduous.

But getting himself to bed merely causes him to go on another journey: “a journey in my head.” Although he is trying to rest his body after his physical labor and travel are finished, he seems to have to continue his labors mentally.

Second Quatrain: Wondering Thoughts

For then my thoughts—from far where I abide—
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:

The speaker then addresses someone or something, saying that his mind has begun a “zealous pilgrimage to thee.” At this point, the reader realizes that the addressee could be anyone or anything. So the question becomes, just whom is the speaker addressing? Who is this person or thing that has captured the thoughts of the speaker, so that he is unable to rest his weary body, because of his busy mind?

The addressee appears to be remain far away from the speaker: “from far where I abide.” Although the speaker is tired and his eyelids are now “drooping,” his thoughts of the dear addressee cause him to remain wide awake. Thus the speaker, though lying wide awake in bed in his totally dark room, keeps his eyes wide open, viewing ing only what “the blind do see,” as he begins to contemplate and muse on his next sonnet.

Third Quatrain: The Next Poem

Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

In the third quatrain, the nature of the addressee becomes clear: the speaker is again addressing his poetry and probably more specifically, his next poem. His physical eyes see only the blackness of night, but his “soul’s imaginary sight / Presents thy shadow to my sightless view.” In his soul, he can see the perfect image of his next poem “Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night, / Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.”

The reader has witnessed this speaker’s adoration and devotion to his art many times before in this particular group of sonnets (18-126), and in this one that devotion is once again dramatized. The speaker refers to his poetry’s presence as a “shadow” which would become a positive image when seen against his “sightless view.” His devotion to composing continues in his mind, even after he is physically exhausted and is lying down to rest.

The Couplet: The Laboring Mind

Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

The couplet confirms that the speaker is all consumed in his love and devotion to his art: in the day time, he performs physical labor, writing and revising, traveling, toiling as he must to meet life’s responsibilities.

But in the night time, even after a full day of physical labor, the speaker's mind continues to labor in his devotion. His talent is demanding, and because he has acquired the habit of living for his art, his mind naturally looks always for the shadow of the next poem.

Shakespeare Sonnet 28: "How can I then return in happy plight"

The speaker is suffering writer’s block and complains that both day and night seem to be conspiring to keep him from fulfilling his beloved writing duties.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 28

In Shakespeare Sonnet 28, the speaker is now addressing his muse: he is become tired and weary and his creativity seem to be on hold: he is suffering writer’s block. The speaker then complains that both day and night some strange force seems to be engaged in preventing him from producing his beloved sonnet. Because the speaker takes his writing duties very seriously, he now seeks answers from the muse for allowing him to be blocked as writer.

Sonnet 28

How can I then return in happy plight
That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?
When day’s oppression is not eas’d by night,
But day by night, and night by day oppress’d,
And each, though enemies to either’s reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still further off from thee.
I tell the day, to please him thou art bright
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion’d night;
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild’st the even.
But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief’s strength seem stronger.

Reading of Sonnet 28

Commentary on Sonnet 28

The speaker is suffering writer’s block and complains that both day and night seem to be conspiring to keep him from fulfilling his beloved writing duties.

First Quatrain: Questioning His Muse

How can I then return in happy plight
That am debarr’d the benefit of rest?
When day’s oppression is not eas’d by night,
But day by night, and night by day oppress’d,

In the first quatrain, the speaker questions his muse: how can I ever be happy again, when I cannot get a refreshing sleep, and when my beloved muse seems to have abandoned me? During the day, he is oppressed, and then during the night he is oppressed. He is unable to write during the day, and then at night he worries about not being able to write.

This speaker is usually so confident in his abilities, but as all creative individuals do, he is suffering a period of dryness, when nothing seems to work to call forth joy and creativity from his heart and mind.

Second Quatrain: Keeping Separate Kingdoms

And each, though enemies to either’s reign,
Do in consent shake hands to torture me,
The one by toil, the other to complain
How far I toil, still further off from thee.

Day and night keep separate kingdoms and seem to have little to do with each other, but now during the writer’s time of dryness and emptiness, it seems that day and night both conspire to keep him in a state of "torture."

The speaker toils by day—tries his best to overcome his block, and then by night he also toils by complaining how much he toiled during the day. And all of this toiling does not bring the speaker closer to his beloved accomplishments, his talent, and his creation of poetry. He remains, "still further off from thee."

Notice that the speaker uses the term "further" rather than "farther." The speaker employs the term "further" to indicate that he is not referring to distance in physical miles. The speaker is not traveling on a journey which is separating him from another person. He is merely cut off temporarily from his God-given talent by writer’s block.

It seems that both night and day are conspiring to keep him weary and block his creative juices from flowing: each succeeding day adds an additional or further veil of separation from his adored duty to write his sonnets.

Third Quatrain: Coaxing Daylight

I tell the day, to please him thou art bright
And dost him grace when clouds do blot the heaven:
So flatter I the swart-complexion’d night;
When sparkling stars twire not thou gild’st the even.

The speaker tries to coax day to let him create by telling day that his poet creations are also "bright" and can actually brighten up day’s domain when there are clouds blocking the sun. And the speaker then "flatter[s]" the god of night by telling the "swart-complexion’d" one that his poetry can light up the heavens when the stars are not visible.

The speaker uses the term "twire" which means twinkle but also in Shakespeare’s time meant "to sing." His poems, he avers, can sing for the stars, if night time will only relent and let him rest.

The Couplet: Cajoling the Gods

But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer,
And night doth nightly make grief’s strength seem stronger.

But no matter how he cajoles the gods of day and night, day seems to make his life more and more sorrowful, and night makes his grief even heavier: "But day doth daily draw my sorrows longer, / And night doth nightly make grief’s strength seem stronger."

The poet’s use of the poetic device known as incremental repetition—"day doth daily" and "night doth nightly"—offers a meaningful component to this poem that focuses so heavily on the day and night as conspirators in this speaker’s complaint.

Shakespeare Sonnet 29: "When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes"

The speaker being quite human sometimes suffers feelings of defeat, but when he thinks about his poetry, he realizes how lucky he is to be able to create.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 29

The speaker always remains down to earth and never boasts about his considerable talents for poetry creating. At times, the talented scribbler, however, finds himself dismayed by his lot and especially about what others may think of him.

It is during those melancholy periods that the speaker garners much satisfaction from his ability to create lovely sonnets. Thus, he comes to acknowledge how fortunate he is to possess such a prepossessing talent.

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,
Featur’d 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.

Reading of Sonnet 29

Commentary on Sonnet 29

The speaker being quite human sometimes suffers feelings of defeat, but when he thinks about his poetry, he realizes how lucky he is to be able to create.

First Quatrain: Sometimes He Experiences Difficulties

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,

In the first quatrain of Shakespeare sonnet 29, the speaker admits that there are times in his life when things are not going well, times when he thinks he is "in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes," and he feels like an outcast as he cries and whines and curses his fate.

It does him no good, but he complains and troubles "deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries." But all of this is merely set in an adverbial clause: he is beginning the sonnet with a "when" clause, which will have the form of "when this happens, then this happens."

Second Quatrain: Sometimes He Feels Cursed and Hopeless

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur’d 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;

The second quatrain continues the "when" clause but further describes the speaker’s discontent. When he finds himself feeling cursed and outcast, he might wish he were like some other man, "one more rich in hope." And not only one man, but also the speaker would like to look like some handsome man, or have friends like some friendly man, or he might wish he could create like some creative man, or be able to have the understanding of another man.

And all this envy of others causes the speaker to disdain the very things he loves most: "With what I most enjoy contented least." He becomes negligent and oblivious even failing to find joy in the things in his life that usually make him happy.

Third Quatrain: Poetry Rescues His Vagrant Thoughts

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;

So when the speaker is feeling cursed and outcast by others, and wishing he were more like those who are more acceptable, and these thoughts are making him "almost" hate himself, what does he do? He thinks about his poetry—and suddenly his state of mind is transformed, "Like to the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate."

The speaker quite appropriately likens his feeling to the bird that is known for its singing. The speaker in this group of sonnets consistently celebrates his art, his creation of poems/songs/sonnets.

The Couplet: Art Lifts His Spirits

For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

The speaker has invested so much love and affection in his own art that it can only be that art that lifts his spirits when he becomes depressed with worldly activity.

But not only does the speaker's art lift him from the doldrums, it makes him realize he is better off than royalty because he has the ability to create art. When he remembers and cherishes his poetry, he would "scorn to change [his] state with kings."

Shakespeare Sonnet 30: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought”

Sonnet 30 belongs to the group that is mistakenly thought to be addressed to a young man, but no young man appears; in fact, no person appears at all. The “dear friend” does not refer to a fellow human being; it refers to the speaker’s poetic talent. He is addressing his ability to create poetry.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 30

The speaker in Shakespeare Sonnet 30 dramatizes the simple idea that despite all of the sorrow and lack he has experienced in his life, the one thing he can count on to restore “all losses” and end his sorrow is his dear friend, his ability to write poems. Sonnet 30 belongs to the group that is mistakenly thought to be addressed to a young man, but no young man appears. No person appears in any of this sequence of poems. The speaker muses only on his poems and his ability to compose them. The “dear friend” he is addressing is his talent, his ability to write sonnets. That ability is truly the speaker's best and dearest friend.

Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear times’ waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.


Reading of Sonnet 30

Commentary on Sonnet 30

The speaker is addressing his talent—his ability to write soul inspiring poems.

First Quatrain: When-Then

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear times’ waste:

Shakespeare sonnet 30 functions through the “when-then” structure as many of the sonnets do. The speaker contends that "when" one events occurs, "then" a second event follows the first one. In this sonnet's first stanza, the speaker’s when-clause dramatizes his thinking back to his earlier life: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past.” This occasion of “sessions of sweet silent thought” refers exactly to the times that he is musing on writing a poem. When such a musing session happens to lead him to thoughts of sadness and loss, he “sigh[s]” at what he was unable to accomplish or at what he was unable to attain, and he bemoans his wasted time in certain pursuits.

Second Quatrain: Sad Memories

Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:

Such sad memories cause the speaker to cry a flood of tears, and he goes on to remember friends who have died, and old lost loves who made him sorrowful, but long since he had forgotten. Still these memories, when they attend the speaker during a session “of sweet silent thought,” lay heavy on his heart, and he suffers anew as if the sorrow had just begun. Even though the speaker had overcome the sorrow, and his tears were “unus’d to flow,” the memories can become so vivid that they overtake his composure, and his tears rush freely down cheeks that had long remained dry and stalwart against pain.

Third Quatrain: Heavy Grief

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.

The speaker's past grief becomes so heavy that he has the ability to take account of it as if the grief were newly minted. He has the ability to shape in it a poem to “tell o’er / The sad account.” The speaker can retell it to make it so real that others can experience it in his poems. The speaker has a great confidence in his knowledge of his own heart and his ability to create art with his grief. This talented speaker's memories provide the material, and his mind and genius for writing allow him to capture his emotion in sturdy poems.

The Couplet: Removing Pain

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d and sorrows end.

Despite the fact that the speaker's sorrows are deep and wield his strength to tears, and the lack he has suffered makes him doubt some of his past choices, all he has to do to recover is remember that his God-given gift of poetic genius is enough to remove all pain and sorrow. The speaker thinks of his ability to compose as a “dear friend.”

The De Vere Society

The De Vere Society

Questions & Answers

Question: Would you give me the prosodic scansion of "Sonnet 20" by Shakespeare?

Answer: Here is a site that offers scansions of the sonnets: http://prescannedshakespeare.aruffo.com/sonnets/so...

Question: What is the structure of Shakespeare's sonnet 20?

Answer: Sonnet 20 is an English (Elizabethan or Shakespearean) sonnet with the traditional rime scheme, ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error at https://owlcation.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-... . "

Question: Is there a tone throughout Shakespeare's "Sonnet 20" or does it vary?

Answer: The tone of this sonnet is bright and confident.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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