What are the figures of speech in Sonnet 29?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When we look for figures of speech, we're looking for words and phrases that are not meant to be taken literally, so we're specifically looking to identify these devices:

  • figurative comparisons (similes and metaphors)
  • exaggeration for a dramatic effect (hyperbole)
  • and human traits given to nonhuman things and ideas (personification).

In Sonnet 29, which is about the speaker's sadness over being unsuccessful in life until he remembers how lucky he is to have the person who loves him, we find some good examples of all of those specific figures of speech listed above. Let's check them out in that order:

1. Similes and metaphors. The speaker's mood improves "Like to the lark at break of day arising," which is a simile, and he thinks of the love he receives as "wealth" (a metaphor).

2. Hyperbole. The poem is rife with exaggerations and dramatic overstatements. Here are the strongest examples:

  • "I all alone beweep my outcast state." This means the speaker is completely by himself and weeping over how nobody likes him.
  • "With what I most enjoy contented least." This means that he's so sad that he's actually the saddest when he's doing whatever he usually enjoys the most.
  • "I scorn to change my state with kings." This means that the thought of the person who loves him makes the speaker so happy that he would scoff if a king offered to trade places with him in life.

3. Personification. Heaven is described as "deaf" (not hearing the speaker's cries), the earth is described as "sullen" (sad and gloomy), and a bird "sings hymns at heaven’s gate." By saying that heaven is deaf and the earth is sullen, the speaker adds color and life to his impressions of existence as being hopeless. Then, by saying that he's suddenly so happy that he's like a bird that sings religious songs at the entrance of heaven, the speaker shows the utter completeness of his reversal in mood.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the figures of speech used in William Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

In the first line of the this poem, Shakespeare uses synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole and vice versa. By stating that he is in disgrace with "men's eyes," he does not mean their eyes only, but their entire selves.

In line three, Shakespeare uses apostrophe by speaking of heaven as if it is a person who is deaf to his cries about his unfortunate situation. This can also be deemed personification since heaven is given a human persona, as if it can respond to his cries.  

In lines five and six, Shakespeare uses similes, which are comparisons between two unlike things, usually using "like" or "as." In this instance, he is comparing himself to one who, he believes, is more fortunate than himself. He wishes to be as blessed as the other person and that he can have what he has, such as friends and good looks.

In line twelve, the speaker describes earth as being "sullen," which is also personification . He means that earth is in a depressed...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

and sulky mood, which is a human characteristic. He is, in fact, describing his own depressed mood and contrasts it with his happy state by using a simile describing himself as a lark, a bird associated with joy and a sense of contentment.

The speaker uses the word "state" as a pun, which is a play on words. It has different connotations throughout the sonnet. In line two, it refers to his situation or condition, while in line 10 he is speaking about his mood. In the final line, "state" refers to his position, which he does not wish to substitute, even with that of kings, since he believes that he is truly fortunate to have in memory a friend who can bring him true love.

Assonance -- the repetition of vowel sounds is also used but is not that prominent. The poet uses assonance in line 3: "deaf heaven," which accentuates the fact that his cries go unheard.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the figures of speech used in William Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

Personification: Giving objects human qualities or emotions.

  • "trouble deaf heaven"--  Shakespeare describes heaven as being "deaf" which normally would describe a person incapable of hearing.
  • "sullen earth"-- Shakespeare characterizes the earth as being "sullen," to contrast from the joy felt by the lark at the break of day.

Simile:  Comparing two unlike things using like or as.

  • "like to one more rich in hope"--The speaker of the poem wishes to be like someone more optimistic, and in the next line "like him with friends possess'd."  He uses the comparisons to reveal the deprivation felt by the speaker, who does not have either hope or friends.
  • "like to the lark at break of day arising"--The speaker of the poem compares his state to that of the lark in cheeful song; his simile brings in the vivid imagery of the lark as well as introducing a shift in mood of the poem, transitioning from gloomy to optimistic.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are some examples of figures of speech in Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

The first types of figures of speech we encounter in Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 are those of sound. The poem is a sonnet consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. The lines use the regular rhyme scheme of the English sonnet and consist of three open quatrains followed by a couplet.

Next, there are several examples of simile and metaphor in the poem. The most important comparisons are those concerning the poet's spirit resembling a lark that sings hymns. 

Next, we have paronomasia in the play on the double meaning of a state as a kingdom and as a condition. 

There are several instances of personification, or attributing human characteristics to non-human entities. These include "sullen earth" and "deaf heaven." 

The listing of multiple different types of woes is a form of amplificatio, in which one makes the same point in multiple different ways as a form of emphasis. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are some examples of figures of speech in Shakespeare's Sonnet 29?

Personification is used to describe heaven as deaf to the speaker's futile cries:

And trouble deaf heaven  (line 3)

In line 12 personification is also used when earth is described as "sullen."

A simile is used to describe the speaker's joy when he thinks about his beloved:

. . .and then my, state,

Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth . .

A metaphor is used to compare the "sweet love" of the beloved to "wealth."

These figures of speech serve to contrast the speaker's melancholy state of mind with his joy when he remembers that he is truly lucky to have the love of such a one as his beloved.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on