One of the most popular kinds of sonnets is the Shakespearean (Elizabethan or English) poetic form—not invented by the Bard, but popularized by him. It is similar to other sonnets (e.g., the Petrarchan/Italian and Spenserian) in that it has 14 lines. It has a specific rhyme scheme (in this case, ABAB CDCD EFEF GG), is written in iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line, with a stress on every other syllable), and its structure supports the message of the poem.
Sonnet 29 is one of Shakespeare's most popular sonnets. Structurally, it is made up of three quatrains and one rhyming couplet. A quatrain is a four-line stanza. The rhyming couplet is a pair of lines that rhyme. In the sonnet, rhyme is very important. It gives the poem a musical sound. For each line throughout the poem, rhyme is found with the last word of each line. For example, in the first quatrain, the first and third lines rhyme; and, the second and fourth lines rhyme. (See the first quatrain: "eyes" and "cries," and "state" and "fate.")
The use of quatrains and a rhyming couplet is the structure that Shakespeare uses to organize his ideas in the sonnet.
The first two quatrains (the first eight lines) establish the sonnet's initial tone: the speaker feels terrible.
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, the speaker notes that Fortune (the personification of luck) has not been kind to him, men show him little respect, he is alone, he calls to heaven (which is "deaf") with his "bootless" (futile) cries, and he curses his life. See how his unhappiness continues in the second quatrain (below): he wishes he had more hope, was better looking, had more friends; he would like to have more talent that encompasses a greater ability ("art" and "scope"); and, he notes that the best things in his life bring him the least amount of happiness.
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least...
However, all of this is about to change; Shakespeare uses the word "Yet" as a pivotal marker. The first two quatrains have been used to present the speaker's problems. The third quatrain will show hope renewed, presenting a completely new tone, because of "thee." The speaker notes that even as he almost hates himself, he thinks about the woman he loves, and in that moment, his mood is like a bird soaring through the skies to "sing hymns at heaven's gate." One thought of her completely changes the way he sees his life and his prospect for happiness.
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...
The rhyming couplet, then, summarizes the key point of the poem: remembering the love he shares with this woman, he feels so great, so wonderful, that he would not stoop to change places with a king, for he believes he is far more blessed than any king on earth.
For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.
The parts of the sonnet organize the poem's ideas: the first two quatrains present the problem; the third quatrain presents a positive change; and the rhyming couplet summarizes the poem's most important idea.
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