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Sonnet 29

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Have you ever felt all alone and jealous of what others have? What thoughts or actions helped pull you out of those negative feelings? "Sonnet 29" (1609) by William Shakespeare explores how those feelings can overwhelm one's thoughts, and how a close relationship with someone can help quench those feelings of loneliness. William Shakespeare, a poet and playwright whose writing has stood the test of time, popularized the notion of love being painful and bringing unwanted emotional and physical consequences.

Shakespeare's poems are thought to be written to three different subjects. The majority of sonnets, like "Sonnet 29," are addressed to a "Fair Youth," which may have been a young man he mentored. A smaller lot were addressed to a "Dark Lady," and the third subject is a rival poet—thought to be a contemporary of Shakespeare's. "Sonnet 29" addresses the Fair Youth.

In "Sonnet 29" we see the speaker struggle with accepting who he is and his station in life. The speaker opens the sonnet by being unhappy as an outcast and expressing his jealousy of others.

Before reading further, how would you describe feelings of isolation and jealousy?

“Sonnet 29” at a Glance

Poem"Sonnet 29"
Written William Shakespeare
Published 1609
StructureEnglish or Shakespearean sonnet
MeterIambic pentameter
ThemeIsolation, despair, love
MoodShifts from despairing to grateful
ImageryAuditory, visual
Poetic devicesAlliteration, simile, enjambment
Overall meaningWhen feeling dejected and upset over life, there are things to be happy and grateful for.

"Sonnet 29" Full Text

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 my self and curse my fate,

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,

Yet in these thoughts my self 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."

Note the last word of each line rhymes with another word in the same quatrain. This is called end rhyme. The rhyme scheme in this sonnet, and other English sonnets, is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

"Sonnet 29" Summary

Shakespearean, or English sonnets, all have 14 lines. Sonnets are divided into three quatrains (four lines of verse together) and one final couplet (two lines of verse together). Customarily, the first portion of the poem expresses a problem or poses a question, while the last part responds to the problem or answers the question. To best understand the underlying meaning of a poem, it is necessary to understand the literal meaning first.

Many of Shakespeare's contemporaries, such as Italian poet Francesco Petrarch, believed women should be idolized. Petrarch described women as perfect in his poetry. Shakespeare believed that life and love are multifaceted and should be appreciated for their true nature, rather than an idealized version of what others feel they should be.

Shakespearean or English sonnets are also referred to as Elizabethan sonnets.

Summary of Lines 1-4

The first quatrain in "Sonnet 29" portrays a speaker who is in "disgrace" (line 1) with Fortune. He is unhappy with the current status of his life and feels alone. The speaker notes that not even heaven hears his cries and pleads for help. The speaker curses his fate.

Sonnet 29, A sad man in isolation, StudySmarterThe poetic voice feels alone and depressed. Pexels.

Summary of Lines 5-8

The second quatrain of "Sonnet 29" discusses how the speaker feels his life should be. He wishes for more friends and that he was more hopeful. The voice shares that he is envious of what other men have, and he is not content with what he possesses.

Summary of Lines 9-12

The last quatrain of the sonnet marks a shift in thought and tone with the word "[y]et" (line 9). This transition word shows a change in attitude or tone, and the speaker focuses on what he is grateful for. With thoughts of the beloved, the speaker compares himself to a lark, which is a symbol of hope.

Summary of Lines 13-14

The last two lines in the sonnet concisely concludes the poem and expresses that the love shared with the beloved is enough wealth. This singular thought makes the speaker grateful, and the speaker would hate to change his state of life, even to trade with a king.

"Sonnet 29" Analysis

"Sonnet 29" examines the speaker's life and expresses his unhappiness with the state he finds himself in. The speaker feels "disgrace with fortune" (line 1) and unlucky. The speaker begins by lamenting his solitary situation and uses auditory imagery to express his isolation. He expresses that "deaf heaven" does not even hear his sadness. Feeling that even heaven has turned on the speaker and refuses to hear his pleas, he laments his lack of friends and wishes to be "rich in hope" (line 5).

The third quatrain contains a poetic shift, where the speaker realizes he has at least one aspect of life to be thankful for: his beloved. This realization marks a shift in tone from despairing to grateful. Although the sense of appreciation isn't necessarily romantic, it is a source of great joy for the speaker. The poetic voice expresses his newfound gratitude and hope as his state is compared to "the lark at break of day arising" (line 11). The lark, a traditional symbol of hope, freely soars into the sky as the speaker's mental and emotional state improve and are freed from the cage of despair and loneliness.

The word "Yet" in line 9 signals that shift in mood from feelings of isolation and despair to a sense of hope. The visual image of the lark, a wild bird, symbolizes the poetic voice's improved disposition. As the bird rises freely into the morning sky, there is a renewed promise that life can be, and will be, better. Supported by ideas of "sweet love" that enhances life and "wealth" in line 13, the shift in mood shows the speaker has found a source of happiness in his beloved and is ready to move away from despair and self-pity.

Sonnet 29, A sunrise, StudySmarterThe speaker feels like a bird flying at sunrise, which expresses feelings of hope. Pexels.

The final couplet gives the reader a new perspective of the poetic voice, just as he gains a new perspective on life. He is now a renewed being who is grateful for his state in life because of his beloved and the love they share. The speaker acknowledges that he is so happy with his place in life, and that he "scorns to change his state with kings" (line 14) because he has thoughts of his beloved. The speaker has moved from a state of internal loathing to a state of awareness that some things are more important than wealth and status. Through the unified structure and end rhyme in the heroic couplet, this ending serves to further unify his feelings of hope and gratitude, as well as emphasize the speaker's awareness that his "wealth" (line 13) is more bountiful than that of royalty.

A heroic couplet is a pair of two lines of poetry that end with rhyming words or contain end rhyme. The lines in a heroic couplet also share a similar meter—in this case, pentameter. Heroic couplets function as strong conclusions to grab the reader's attention. They emphasize the importance of the idea through their use of end rhyme.

"Sonnet 29" Volta and Meaning

"Sonnet 29" shows a speaker critical of the state of his life and with feelings of isolation. The last six lines of the poem begin the volta, or the turn in the poem, which is marked by the transition word "yet".

A volta, also known as a poetic shift or turn, typically marks a change in topic, idea, or sentiment within a poem. In a sonnet, the volta can also indicate a change in argument. As many sonnets begin by posing a question or a problem, the volta marks an attempt to answer the question or solve the problem. In English sonnets, the volta typically occurs sometime before the final couplet. Words such as "yet" and "but" can help identify the volta.

The poem begins with the speaker expressing thoughts of hopelessness and solitude. However, the tone of the poem shifts from hopeless to grateful. The voice realizes that he is lucky to have his beloved in his life. Key diction after the volta, including "[h]aply" (line 10), "arising" (line 11), and "sings" (line 12) exhibit the speaker's change in attitude. The mere thought of the beloved is enough to raise his spirits and make the speaker feel luckier than a king. No matter one's current status in life, there are always things and people to be grateful for. The power love has to change one's mindset is immense. Thoughts of happiness can overcome feelings of isolation and despair by focusing on feelings of appreciation and the positive aspects of life expressed through love.

"Sonnet 29" Themes

The themes of "Sonnet 29" concern isolation, despair, and love.


While in isolation, it is easy to feel despondent or discouraged about life. The speaker focuses on the negative aspects of his life and feels isolated. He's in "disgrace," (line 1), "alone" (line 2) and looks up to heaven with "cries" (line 3). His pleas for help "trouble deaf heaven" (line 3) as he feels dejected and rejected even by his own faith. This feeling of isolation is an internalized feeling of hopelessness that comes with a heavy weight and leaves the speaker in solitude to "curse [his] fate" (line 4). He is in his own self-prison, locked away from the world, the skies, and his faith.


Feelings of despair are highlighted through the speaker's expression of jealousy in the second quatrain, as he desires to be "rich in hope" (line 5) and "with friends" (line 6), further permeating the discouraging ideas from the first portion of the poem. The speaker, unaware of his own blessings, desires "this man's art and that man's scope" (line 7). When feelings of despair overcome an individual, it is hard to see the positive aspects of life. The speaker here focuses on the deficit, rather than the blessings he is afforded. Sorrow can be consuming, and in "Sonnet 29" it consumes the speaker almost to the point of no return. However, the final saving grace comes in the form of a majestic but tiny bird—the lark, which brings hope and "sweet love" (line 13). As long as the mere memory of love is present, so is a reason to continue.


In "Sonnet 29" Shakespeare expresses the idea that love is a force powerful enough to pull one from the depths of depression and into a state of joy and gratitude. The speaker feels isolated, cursed, and "in disgrace with fortune" (line 1). However, mere thoughts of love change the speaker's life perspective, revealing an ascent from sadness as both mental and emotional states rise "like to the lark at break of day" (line 11) so much that the poetic voice would not even change roles with a king. The power love exhibits in the face of despair is immense and can change one's life. For the speaker, the awareness that there is something beyond sadness gives purpose and proves that life's struggles are worthwhile.

"Sonnet 29" Literary Devices

Literary and poetic devices add to the meaning by helping the audience visualize the action of the poem and the underlying meaning. William Shakespeare employs several different literary devices to enhance his works such as alliteration, simile, and enjambment.

Alliteration in "Sonnet 29"

Shakespeare uses alliteration in "Sonnet 29" to emphasize feelings of joy and contentment and show how thoughts can have the power to improve someone's mental state, attitude, and life. Alliteration in "Sonnet 29" is used to add emphasis to these ideas and to bring rhythm to the poem.

Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the start of consecutive words within one line or several lines of verse.

"Haply I think on thee, and then my state" (line 10)

The alliteration in line 10 emphasizes the sentiment the speaker has for the beloved, and how his mental state improves. The speaker clearly holds his beloved in high regard, and the soft "h" sound that begins the line sits in contrast to the strong alliteration within the rest of the line. The strong "th" sound in the words, "think," "thee," and "then" brings a beat to the poem and strengthens the emotional sentiment. Almost mimicking the pace of a heartbeat, the line reveals the beloved is close to the speaker's heart.

Simile in "Sonnet 29"

Another literary device employed by Shakespeare is the use of simile. Similes use comparative relationships to make a foreign or abstract idea more understandable. Shakespeare uses simile in "Sonnet 29" to connect with the audience by using a recognizable description to describe the powerful shift in his emotions in terms that readers can connect with.

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things using the words "like" or "as". It serves to describe by revealing a similarity between the two objects or ideas.

"Like to the lark at break of day arising" (line 11)

The simile in line 11 compares his state to a lark rising. A lark is often a symbol of hope and peace in literature. Birds are also representative of freedom because of their ability to fly. This comparison, using a symbol of hope, proves that the speaker is seeing his situation in a better light. He feels a glimmer of hope when thinking of the beloved, and likens this feeling to a bird soaring in the sky at sunrise. The bird in the sky at sunrise is a sign of freedom, hope, and a renewed sense that things are not as bleak as they seem.

Sonnet 29, a lark shows hope, StudySmarterThe speaker compares his state to a lark, which is a symbol of hope. Pexels

Enjambment in "Sonnet 29"

Enjambment in verse helps with the continuity of ideas and links concepts together. In "Sonnet 29" Shakespeare's use of enjambment pushes the reader forward. The push to continue reading or complete the thought mirrors the push to continue on in life that the speaker feels when thinking of his beloved.

An enjambment is a thought in verse that doesn't end at the end of a line, but it continues onto the next line without the use of punctuation.

"(Like to the lark at break of day arising

From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate," (11-12)

Enjambment leaves the reader engaged in the ideas and in search of a complete thought. In lines 11-12 of the poem, line 11 ends with the word "arising" and continues on to the next line without punctuation. This thought connects the first line with a feeling of uprising and moves to the next line, propelling the verse forward. The incomplete sensation at the end of line 11 retains the readers' attention, much like a cliff-hanger at the end of a movie—it leaves the audience wanting more. The quatrain itself ends with an incomplete idea, and this drives the reader to the final couplet.

"Sonnet 29" - Key takeaways

  • "Sonnet 29" is written by William Shakespeare and is one of nearly 154 sonnets. It was published in 1609.
  • "Sonnet 29" is addressed to the "fair youth".
  • "Sonnet 29" uses alliteration, simile, and enjambment to enhance the poem and add meaning.
  • The themes of "Sonnet 29" deals with isolation, despair, and love. Some of life's greatest joys should be appreciated, even if you are unhappy with certain aspects of life.
  • The mood of "Sonnet 29" shifts from feelings of despair and isolation to feeling grateful.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sonnet 29

The themes in "Sonnet 29" deal with isolation, despair, and love. Some of life's greatest joys should be appreciated, even if you are unhappy with certain aspects of life.

In "Sonnet 29" the speaker is unhappy with the state of his life, but he finds solace and is grateful for his beloved.

The rhyme scheme of "Sonnet 29" is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

The speaker in "Sonnet 29" feels better with thoughts of the youth and the love they share.

The mood of "Sonnet 29" shifts from unhappy to grateful.

Final Sonnet 29 Quiz

Sonnet 29 Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


What is the theme of Sonnet 29? 

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The themes deal with isolation, despair, and love.

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What is the rhyme scheme of "Sonnet 29"? 

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Where is the poetic shift in Sonnet 29?

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The shift occurs starting at line 9:
"Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising..."

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To whom is Sonnet 29 addressed? 

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the fair youth

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What in the poem was considered a typical symbol of hope?

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a lark

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What is not another term for a Shakespearean sonnet?

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Italian sonnet

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How does the speaker feel at the beginning of Sonnet 29?

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He feels isolated, desolate, and alone.

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What is it that lifts the speaker's spirits in Sonnet 29? 

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thoughts of his beloved and their love

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What is the meter of Sonnet 29? 

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iambic pentameter

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What is a simile? 

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A comparison using the words "like" or "as"

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What is enjambment?

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Enjambment is when a complete idea doesn't end at a poetic line, but it continues onto the next line. It propels the poem forward.

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What is a quatrain? 

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a four-line stanza

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How many lines does an English sonnet have? 

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How many syllables does an Elizabethan sonnet have? 

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140 syllables 

(14 lines, with ten syllables per line)

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What is a volta? 

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A turn or shift in a poem that marks a change in ideas, tone, or mood.

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