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 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.
It is uncertain whether the state of disgrace referred to in this sonnet is a real or imaginary one, for we have no external evidence of a dip in Shakespeare's fortunes which might have contributed to an attack of melancholy and a subsequent castigation of fate as the perpetrator. It is tempting to relate works to periods in an author's life. Certainly the years in which Shakespeare wrote Lear and Timon of Athens seem not to have been the happiest of times, but it is almost impossible to correlate particular events in his life, and the possible emotional crises that they could have produced, with publication dates, or known dates of production of his plays. (See further notes on SonnetXXIX. )
The sorrow quoted here might be more rhetorical than real, being part of the sonnet tradition, in which many misfortunes contrive to make the lover unhappy. It also serves to highlight the great joy which ends the poem, when he thinks once more on his beloved, as in the psalms, and rises above the clouds.
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.