Guest poem sent in by Aseem Continuing the theme of poems worth memorising:
(Poem #1689) When in Disgrace with Fortune and Men's Eyes (Sonnet XXIX)
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. Wishing me like to one more rich in hope, Featur'd like him, like him with friends possessed, Desiring this man's art and that man's scope, With what I most enjoy contented least, 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, For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings, That then I scorn to change my state with Kings.
It's not so much that this sonnet moves me to memorise it, it's more that (like much of Shakespeare) the language in it rings so true that having read it once it's impossible to get it out of my head. In many ways, Sonnet XXIX has always struck me as the perfect sonnet. It's not just that it's a brilliant demonstration of Shakespeare's incredible command over the language. It's also the flawless marriage of that language with form and content. Notice how the first eight lines form a sort of prison of despair - a prison in which the lines pace restlessly back and forth - and then the sextet that follows is a soaring escape from this feeling, five lines of such incredible beauty that just reading them you can hear your heart soar like a bird released. And Shakespeare doesn't just give you the image to go with the feeling, he gives you a 12th line that seems to follow from both the 10th and the 11th, making an otherwise tired metaphor come breathlessly alive. Plus of course there's the rhythm of the whole thing, the way every line seems to trip so lightly onto your tongue, that it's almost impossible to see how the thing could have been said any differently. This is the Shakespeare of the great monologues - a man whose gift for speech writing has few equals. The wording is precise (and rich with little nuggets of wit such as "what I most enjoy, contented least" or "change my state with Kings") yet amazingly natural, even four centuries after the sonnet was written. And there's something about lines 10-12 - a sort of singing exultation - that make them truly unforgettable. The only thing I can think of that can bring me such instant joy is the opening movement of Beethoven's 6th Symphony. W.H. Auden described poetry as "a way of happening, a mouth". (In Memory of W. B. Yeats [Poem #50] - another poem I remember every word of). Nowhere is that as true as it is in Shakespeare - this is not simply a poem I remember, it's a poem that is a part of how I think, a voice in my head. Every time I find myself envying someone in office, I can hear that voice mutter "Desiring this man's art and that man's scope"; every time I try to get a document through some government bureacracy I find myself repeating "Trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries"; every time I step out of my building with a hangover and it's a beautiful, sunlit morning and the sky is a brilliant blue the words in my head are "Like to a lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth sings hymns at Heaven's gate". Aseem P.S. I can't believe you don't already have this on Minstrels!