Study Guide for Shakespeare's Sonnet 29

Male Skylark (Alauda arvensis) in flight, singing, Denmark Farm, Lampeter, Ceredigion, Wales, UK,
Richard Steel/Nature Picture Library

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 is noted as a favorite with Coleridge. It explores the notion that love can cure all ills and make us feel good about ourselves. It demonstrates the strong feelings that love can inspire in us, both good and bad.

Sonnet 29: The Facts

Sonnet 29: A Translation

The poet writes that when his reputation is in trouble and he is failing financially; he sits alone and feels sorry for himself. When no one, including God, will listen to his prayers, he curses his fate and feels hopeless. The poet envies what others have achieved and wishes he could be like them or have what they have:

Desiring this man’s heart and that man’s scope

However, when in the depths of his despair, if he thinks of his love, his spirits are lifted:

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising

When he thinks of his love his mood is elevated to the heavens: he feels rich and wouldn’t change places, even with kings:

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sonnet 29: Analysis

The poet feels awful and wretched and then thinks about his love and feels better.

The sonnet is considered by many to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest. However, the poem has also been scorned for its lack of gloss and its transparency. Don Paterson author of Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets refers to the sonnet as a "duffer" or "fluff".

He derides Shakespeare’s use of weak metaphors: “Like to the lark at break of day arising/ From sullen earth...” pointing out that the earth is only sullen to Shakespeare, not to the lark, and therefore the metaphor is a poor one. Paterson also points out that the poem does not explain why the poet is so miserable.

It is up to the reader to decide whether this is important or not. We can all identify with feelings of self-pity and someone or something bringing us out of this state. As a poem, it holds its own.

The poet demonstrates his passion, mainly for his own self-loathing. This may be the poet internalizing his conflicting feelings towards the fair youth and projecting or crediting any feelings of self-worth and self-confidence onto him, attributing the fair youth with the ability to affect his image of himself.

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Jamieson, Lee. "Study Guide for Shakespeare's Sonnet 29." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Jamieson, Lee. (2023, April 5). Study Guide for Shakespeare's Sonnet 29. Retrieved from Jamieson, Lee. "Study Guide for Shakespeare's Sonnet 29." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).