Please  explain  the poem "The Character of a Happy Life" by Sir Henry Wotton.

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Character of a Happy Life by Sir Edward Wotton describes the formula for creating a character that will help you to life a happy and fulfilled life.  In each stanza, Wotton mentions different ways in which a person can be strong and fulfilled, and achieve happiness.  I'll go stanza by stanza, and summarize the point he makes in each.  In the first stanza, he mentions that happiness is "honest thought...utmost skill," and a life where you are free and don't have to "serve another's will."  So, a person who is capable of thinking well, who has a skill and purpose, and doesn't have to live in servitude.  In the second stanza, Wotton mentions that you must have control of your "passions," be "prepared for death," and not care about wealth or fame.  The third stanza talks about how you should not envy, or give too much praise, or have bad habits (vices).  The fourth stanza describes a person who is "from rumours freed" and who is not subject to flattery or ruin by men, and has a clean conscience.  The fifth stanza mentions that praying is important, and reading scriptures makes a better day.  The last stanza states that if one follows all of these bits of advice, and is able to forge these trait in their character, that they will be "Lord of himself...and have all."

Essentially, Wotton, in his poem, is saying that the key to a happy life is to develop an outstanding, moral, honest, and tempered personality and character.  It isn't until you are master of yourself, that you are free to be happy.  I hope that those thoughts help; good luck!

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The gist of most of the Character of a Happy Life is found in the last stanza, where it says:

This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise, or fear to fall;
Lord of himself, though not of lands;
And having nothing, yet hath all.

To Wooton, a happy life is a life of freedom. This poem refers to all the things that bind a person to a form of slavery: Vice, work, fears, personal demons, poverty, ignorance, sadness, the organized system, etc.  In the poem, he addresses these forms of servitude and says that, basically, if you are able to free yourself from these things you shall be free; you would be the "Lord of Yourself."

The poem also addresses that freedom is more valuable than material things. You may not have lands and money, but you have freedom- having freedom: the freedom to think, to use words, to come and go as you please, to follow your own pace, and to find yourself is the main provider of happiness in the life of a person.