Thursday, January 5, 2012

'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun'...yet...'Haply I think of thee'


     Okay I'll be honest, I haven't read many of the sonnets by Shakespeare. Horrified? Well, it's the truth. But, this attempt to read the sonnets was a delightful experience for me. I now have a new appreciation and love for sonnets and I think they will be a staple in my reading from now on.

     There are two sonnets specifically that have really amazed me: Sonnet 130 and Sonnet 29.

Sonnet 130:

     This was an amazing sonnet to read. I will confess that this is one of the few sonnets that I've heard before, but reading it on my own really gave me a whole new appreciation for it. In order to understand the power of this sonnet it is best to break it down piece by piece:

The Text:

In searching out the sonnets, I came across a wonderful website,, which displays sonnets for easy reading. Here I have posted the 1609 version.

 The 1609 Quarto Version
MY Miſtres eyes are nothing like the Sunne,
Currall is farre more red,then her lips red,
If ſnow be white,why then her breſts are dun:
If haires be wiers,black wiers grow on her head:
I haue ſeene Roſes damaskt,red and white,
But no ſuch Roſes ſee I in her cheekes,
And in ſome perfumes is there more delight,
Then in the breath that from my Miſtres reekes.
I loue to heare her ſpeake,yet well I know,
That Muſicke hath a farre more pleaſing ſound:
I graunt I neuer ſaw a goddeſſe goe,
My Miſtres when ſhee walkes treads on the ground.
And yet by heauen I thinke my loue as rare,
As any ſhe beli'd with falſe compare.

Form and Theme:

     I confess, figuring out the form of a poem/sonnet takes me a little time. But, the form, to an inexperienced sonnet reader like myself, seems to be a traditional Shakespearean sonnet in Iambic Pentameter with the five pairs (feet) of syllables per line with the pattern following the unstressed-stressed pattern for each pair. Further, the structure seems to follow the pattern:


Not bad for a novice poetry reader right?

     And the theme? Well, it appears that the theme of this sonnet (to me at least) seems to a be a refutation of the generic comparisons that someone might make to describe their lover. Each line debunks the seemingly trite compliments: 'Your eyes are like the sun!' or 'You have coral colored lips!' No, it seems that the speaker is trying to delve deeper. What may seem as an insult initially by stating what this woman is NOT, is actually displaying that she is so much more. To the speaker her beauty is still something otherworldly. It transcends beyond the seemingly simplistic comparisons that most other poets would fall back on. This, in my opinion, makes the sonnet extremely powerful. The beauty the speaker describes, extends beyond the surface. It's kind of inspiring.

For your viewing and listening pleasure:

     I'm a person who loves to listen to someone speak a piece of text, so I investigated on various websites to try and find someone remarkable to recite this lovely sonnet for you. And wouldn't you know it I hit the jackpot! For your viewing and listening pleasure I present a recitation of Sonnet 130 by Alan Rickman himself! *sigh* I love this video and his voice is simply divine.

Sonnet 29:

     I was blown away by this sonnet. As I was reading it I couldn't help but identify with those emotions and feelings within the text. I loved it. I may or may not have swooned just a little bit....

Anyway I digress...

Traditional Text:

     I went to the same website mentioned above and read the sonnet in the original form. I really love doing this.

The 1609 Quarto Version
When in diſgrace with Fortune and mens eyes,
I all alone beweepe my out-caſt ſtate,
And trouble deafe heauen with my bootleſſe cries,
And looke vpon my ſelfe and curſe my fate.
Wiſhing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him,like him with friends poſſeſt,
Deſiring this mans art,and that mans skope,
With what I moſt inioy contented leaſt,
Yet in theſe thoughts my ſelfe almoft deſpiſing,
Haplye I thinke on thee, and then my ſtate,
(Like to the Larke at breake of daye ariſing)
From ſullen earth ſings himns at Heauens gate,
For thy ſweet loue remembred ſuch welth brings,
That then I skorne to change my ſtate with Kings.

Form and Theme:

     The form for this particular sonnet kind of threw me for a loop. I noticed a few things about it. For instance, while the sonnet is written in Iambic Pentameter, there seems to be a slight variation taken to it. If you notice, the word 'state' is mentioned more than once. This alters the rhyme scheme to make it look like this:


     This structure does something really interesting. When reading the sonnet, I noticed that there seems to be a poem within a poem here. The use of 'state' (though defining different things) allows for a rhyme scheme to lace itself throughout a the larger rhyme scheme. Powerful stuff guys!
     I'm also inclined to think that Shakespeare used the word 'state' to show a comparison between two different thought processes. This in turn lends itself to the theme of the sonnet, which would be the contemplation of two very powerful emotions: sadness/longing as well as joy/love. The structure and form shows the shift in these two ideals as the speaker contemplates his misfortunes and disgrace, only to recall fondly at the end the joy he feels because of another and how he would not change his 'state with kings.' This seems to be Shakespeare's attempt at displaying the power of emotional connections to a person's perspective.


     Yep, you read it right! I love music and I puruse Youtube quite often. Fortunately for me I found this amazing video that combined two of my favorite things: music and Mr. Darcy. *sigh* Rufus Wainwright performed Sonnet 29 to music and some genius created an utterly fabulous video of scenes from the most recent film adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice." My hopelessly romantic side died a little from sheer joy.


  1. Sonnet 29 is just dang cute, no? Brilliant analysis! I love what you said about state. and what a brilliant find on that last video! Definitely swoon-worthy!

  2. :) Swoon-worthy content is always a bonus!