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What are the figures of speech in Sonnet 29?  

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Liesl Johnson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

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