Custom Search

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Frugality and Poetry: Shakespeare Sonnet 29

Today I was teaching Shakespeare's Sonnet 29. Even now, I can hardly believe that a big chunk of my job consists of helping students learn to read poetry. It was slow-going. The class is at 8 in the morning, plus my dear students had an assignment due today.

We got to line 10 and--unaided by the poor notes in the venerable Norton Anthology of English Literature--I tried to explain why the word Haply is important. What do you think it means, said I. Eventually, someone ventured Happily??? YESSSS. Then I said, The word has another meaning.

This possibility was outside the knowledge of my sleepy non-majors taking a required course. So, dear Readers, I told them: It's like happenstance; it means by chance. We talked about why that was important.

Then I said, Do you know why a writer might use a word with two meanings? No idea. I pointed out that a sonnet has only 14 lines, each with 10 syllables: the writer doesn't get a lot of words! So, it makes sense to use a word with two meanings. Kind of like a buy-one-get-one-free at the grocery, said I.

This perked some of the students right up: Oh, I LOVE when you buy-one-get-one-free, one exclaimed. At least they were paying attention.

And now I know why I like all those double meanings in poetry: frugality.

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,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
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 remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Patience_Crabstick said...


Shelley said...

Wait, that can't be Shakespeare. I understood it. (I'm afraid I would be the absolute dunce in your class.) Though, I probably only understood one meaning, not the others.

Frugality, I can do.
The poetry, I'll leave to you.

paisleyapron said...

Wonderful. I love those Shakespeare sonnets, I've never seen this one in this light before. Perfect!

Debbie said...

This is beautiful. Thanks for the lift this morning from an English major who doesn't often see the poetry in life. I guess that's why we need people like Shakespeare.

Rosa said...

I love this poem! Thanks for sharing it.

Duchesse said...

Teaching Shakespeare as a required class at 8 am. should win you an award! Lovely.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Shelley--The secret to poetry: do the literal first and then--if there's anything else--you will probably know how to do it.
@Paisley-Thanks to you too.
@Debbie--Wouldn't it be wonderful if we saw MORE in life?
@Rosa-Thank you.
@Duchesse-It's actually the dreaded survey of English lit course--only a little Shakespeare. But I do like the old stuff the best.