Sonnet No. 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.

Sonnet No. 29, by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


9 Responses to “Sonnet No. 29”

  1. I wonder if Mike Disney ever desired another man’s ‘scope…

  2. This sonnet was the subject of the Advanced Placement exam in English from the Educational Testing Service in the autumn of 1965. I remember clearly that I got stuck on “bootless” which I thought mean “barefoot.” I rapidly spiraled out of control, imagining broken toenails, leading to “cries.” This was the principal subject of my essay. Though it is hard to believe, I am not kidding.

    I cannot recall precisely what I made of “haply”, which is, of course, an encoded message for the absence of “pi.” Leaving out “pi” was (metaphorically speaking) my first thought when, many years later, I first glimpsed the analysis of cosmic acceleration sent by Adam Riess. Had we left it out? Haply not.

    Let the record show I was given a top grade in this subject, admitted as a second-year student at Harvard, and have since improved my vocabulary. Somebody at the Educational Testing Service had a sense of humor. Humour. There’s no “you” in humor.

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s an interesting reading of the poem. You could have commented on the unusual rhyme scheme (for Shakespeare), or the ambiguity of the subject matter – is the beloved a man or a woman? Does he/she know of the poet’s feelings? Is it romantic or platonic love? But then they might have failed you.

      “Bootless” derives from a meaning of “boot” which now appears only in the phrase “to boot”. It means “use, gain or advantage”, so “bootless” means futile or something like that. Curiously, this sense of “boot” appears first in the OED listing, with the usual meaning of a covering for the foot way down in third place.

      On this side of the pond, cars have boots too…

      Haply of course is “by chance”, c.f. “perhaps”, “haphazard”, etc. It thus shares the same root as “happy”, which really means fortunate..

      • It thus shares the same root as “happy”, which really means fortunate.

        Interesting. In modern German, glücklich means both happy and lucky. While there are other words which have mainly one or the other meaning, this is by far the most common word in both cases. (Recently, glücklich has such a connotation of happiness that one often says Glück gehabt (had luck) for lucky.)

      • telescoper Says:

        “Gluck” shares the same root as the English word “luck”….

        Low German (Dutch, Old Frisian) luk , a shortened form of geluk (Middle Dutch gelucke = Middle High German gelücke , modern German glück ). Parallel adoptions of the Low German word are Icelandic lukka (14th cent.), Middle Swedish lukka , lykka (modern Swedish lycka ), Danish lykke . Probably it came into English as a gambling term; the Low German dialects were a frequent source of such terms in 15–16 centuries.

    • have since improved my vocabulary

      I’m now reading The Extravagant Universe and even had to look up a few words. One was ‘meretricious’.

      • telescoper Says:

        This is from the same root as “emeritus”, from the latin “e” meaning “out” or “somewhere else” and “meritus” meaning “ought to be”…

      • The first time I heard a human being speak this word was at Caltech, when my office mate in the second sub-basement of Robinson Lab, George Purcell, cautioned me not to believe the error bars on a VLBI measurement because they carried a “meretricious air of precision.”

        Words to remember in a place to forget.

      • When I grow up I want to be a meretrician.

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