I need a critical analysis of the poem "A Consolation" (Sonnet 29) by William Shakespeare.
recommendation: This analysis includes the treatment of theme, poetic devices, figurative language, structure, etc.
The poem is designed as Shakespearean sonnet. The 14 lines have a rhyme scheme of alternating rhyming lines until the couplet that rhymes with itself. The surface meaning of the poem concerns a speaker who is presumably poor and not socially accepted. The story of the speaker becomes darker and more unfortunate in lines 3-9, where the speaker articulates a life of envying the wealth and social status of others, pleasing for a wider level of “scope” in society, and stating his own sense of self as one of “despising.” A dark vision of existence is abruptly lifted and transformed in line 10 when the speaker states, “Haply I think on thee.” This mere mention transforms the speaker’s state of mind as one where new day breaks (line 11) and from “sullen earth” the speaker is moved to “heaven’s gate” (line 12.) The couplet concludes this journey from self hate to love of another and appreciation of one self in the face of dwindling materialism as the speaker concludes that the love he has in the subject of the poem, in the speaker’s eyes would cause him to value this love more than anything else and “scorn to change my state with kings.” The symbolic meaning of the poem is that while poverty and social isolation might plague the speaker, the ability to have love and feel love with the subject to whom the poem is dedicated allows the speaker to transcend these feelings of pain. Infact, the speaker is quite passionate about the fact that his social and economic condition dwindles when he realizes that he is in love (lines 10- 14). There are two sets of images employed in this poem and do much to bring this evolution to the forefront. The images in the first half of the poem denote social and economic hardship and denote a sense of self that makes existence painful. In lines 5- 8, it is not merely that the speaker is relegated to the outside of society and is destitute. We see through the images brought out that there is envy combined with almost a hated of self. Consciousness for the speaker is one rooted with coveting and wanting what other have for himself (lines 5-7). In this realm, the images employed create a mental picture of someone at the bottom of society. Yet, we see in the second half of the poem the images of redemption and being saved through the elusive and intangible power of love. While the speaker articulates social and economic ideas of the good in the first half of the poem, the second half of the poem are images that allow the speaker to transcend his current condition. This is seen with “heaven’s gate” and a “lark at the break of day.” From images that describe reality as what is for the speaker at the start of the poem, the second half of the sonnet’s images are ones that help the speaker envision a life of what should be. It is almost as if the tone of the speaker is trying to convince himself that the love he shares with the subject is more powerful than all the money and social acceptance in the world. In the final analysis, this becomes the theme of the poem. Social acceptance and economic prosperity are distant in comparison to someone who experiences the love of another element outside of themselves. It does not necessarily have to be love of another, but love of a spiritual domain outside of the socially and economically dictated norms can prove to be redemptive.
In Sonnet 29 Shakespeare's speaker arouses the curiosity of the reader in the first line as he appears alone and "outcast" at the nadir of his life, "in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes." Thus, in this first quatrain, the fist aspect of the poem's theme is presented: the speaker is suffering from the isolation of misfortune.
In the second quatrain, the poet's discontent continues as he desires
this man's art, and man's scope/With what I most enjoy contented least
This discontent is resolved in the third quatrain as the speaker thinks of his friend/lover and
then my state (Like to the lark at break of day arising (simile)
lifts his spirits. After this, the couplet comments on what was expressed in the quatrains: When the speaker reflects on his friend/lover, he realizes that "thy swee love remember'd such wealth brings." Love is the greatest wealth one can possess.
Like all Shakespearean sonnets, Sonnet 29 is written in 14 lines of iambic pentatmeter: one unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllabus x 5. [ta DUM, ta DUM, ta DUM, ta DUM, ta DUM] The rhyme scheme is abab,cdcd,efef,gg
Certainly the tone is initially very melancholic, but with the progression of the sonnet, the tone lightens and the speaker realizes the true values of life. Thus, the poem moves from the worldly worries--"fortune" and "fate" and envy, "Desiring this man's art and that man's scope" to the aesthetic: "my state/sings hymns at heaven's gate."
The sonnet is replete with metaphors which elevate the thought to the poetic/artistic levell; for example, "bootless cries" connotes the worldly poverty of the speaker. Much is expressed with the metaphors of "this man's art" and "that man's scope"; the speaker envies the cunning and manipulative abilities of others and skill with people (social acumen) and the range of their wealth, business dealings (economic prowess). Yet, in this self-serving pity, he is roused by the aesthetic as he contemplates the love he possesses and his "state" of melancholy and self-pity rises to the metaphoric "wealth" of the spiritual which surpasses even the wealth of kings.
Sonnet 29 is a 14-line stanza ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, 5' iambic pentameter. The first octave of 4 rhyming quatrains proclaims and intensifies the problem and the second sestet offers a resolution with 2 rhyming quatrains. The sonnet ends with the usual rhyming couplet.
It is important to realise the nature of the language and wording of a sonnet in the era it was written. "Fortune" for example in the Middle Ages was also feminine at the introduction of The Wheel of Fortune:- “Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore her eyes, to signify to you that fortune is blind…..” Henry V (1599) . Fortune was both masculine in the form of a hero/victim of tragedy, and feminine in the form of comedy; a fickle woman, whore and such like, the latter as seen through the eyes of ‘young men'. It is easy to assume that 'Love' is associated with the opposite sex in Shakespearean sonnets without understanding that male and female are not always separate persons but one duality of purpose in one unified consciousness.
Margaret Vaughan/ Oxford, UK