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Wednesday, 5 June 2013

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 29 (When in disgrace with Fortune and mens eyes)


Large landscape with trees (The triangular field): Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, 1908-2001), 1965, oil on canvas

When in disgrace with Fortune and mens eyes,
I all alone beweepe my out-cast state,
And trouble deafe heaven with my bootlesse cries,
And look upon 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 injoy contented least,
Yet in these thoughts my selfe almost 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 Heavens gate,
      For thy sweet love remembred such welth brings,
      That then I skorne to change my state with Kings.

William Shakespeare: Sonnet 29, from Shake-speares sonnets. Never before imprinted, 1609

Montecalvello: Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski de Rola, 1908-2001), 1979, oil on canvas


TC said...

A telegram sent by Balthus to the Tate Gallery in response to a request for biographical data during the preparation of a 1968 retrospective of his work:


Balthus: Through the Looking Glass



That gesture of the man The Triangular Field, those two figures in lower right corner of Montecalvello -- "Haplye I thinke on thee, and then my state" . . .


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, crows calling from branch
foreground, no sound of wave in channel

coming that perhaps thought
such as, “to arrange”

happens by itself as object,
in that way, state of

fog against top of shadowed green ridge,
fog on horizon to the left of the point

TC said...


Lovely that, and thanks for being the daily house poet, in fog or clear.

Really there are some days when your presence helps one to continue on... today especially, because there's been a time-consuming, tiresome troll-siege!

Wooden Boy said...

For me, it's the leaning trees in that first painting.

From sullen earth sings himns at Heavens gate

To be rid of the greatest possible distance in a line.

Marie W said...

To be rid of the greatest possible distance in a line. That's nice. A written line or a traced line. Like that short path from a tree to a tree in the second painting. You can walk on that path to go from tree A to tree B, it's been drawn out for you and maybe it's the best possible path (many people have walked it, it must be the best one), or you can decide to find another way to that tree, not necessarily shorter, not necessarily longer. Out-cast and out-fated?

TC said...

That passage is indeed the crucial swing -- a pivot that releases the poem from bitter memory of "worldly" social constraint/exclusion into the sudden exaltation of those luminous fields of memory (the thought of which brought the radiant Balthus landscapes to mind).

This text follows the 1609 Quarto. The 1780 Thomas Malone edition of the Sonnets punctuates lines 11-12 differently:

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

In favour of the Malone pointing, the 1996 Cambridge editor G. Blakemore Evans argues:

"The Q[uarto] pointing, while making possible literal sense, makes the poet sing his 'hymns' 'From sullen earth' and fails to achieve the important psychological uplift inherent in the poet's exalted 'state' toward which the sonnet has been moving."(G. Blakemore Evans)

But Evans' argument would have the hymns sung by the poet's "state", a more abstract form of singing.

(The lark by the way has likely taken flight from Cymbeline 2.3.20. "Hark, hark the lark at heaven's gate sings, / And Phoebus gins arise.")

That slightly ominous "running tree" at right in the upper Balthus reminds that even at heaven's gate there's always at least the shadow or imagination of threat from that inescapable "real" world out of which love and/or memory have temporarily fled.

Nin Andrews said...

Reading Madame Bovary again--the opening of this sonnet makes me think of Emma, forever beweepeth-ing her state . . . desiring this man's heart and that man's . . .

TC said...


At least Shakespeare finds consolation:

For thy sweet love remembred such welth brings...

In Shakespeare's time, "welth" meant health, welfare, well-being. All that love brings Emma in the long run is poison.