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Lines by Heart: Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare

Written by Rachael Norris, 11th April 2021

Today's Lines by Heart reading is brought to us by Criminal Justice People and Project Manager, Shaun Lawrence. Shaun recites Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare - put yourself to the test and see if you can memorise this poem too.

Sonnet 29

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 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 remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
by William Shakespeare

I’ve got a great memory for what seem to be the most random things: what I was wearing to a particular event; who was there when something happened; what the weather was like when I went to a certain place. I’ve a less good memory when it comes to being able to recite poetry by heart, and so being asked to have a go at this week’s Sunday challenge really does feel like a challenge. I suspect I’ve not made it easier for myself by choosing a Shakespeare sonnet but there is a good reason for this, and it’s linked to memory.

I recall helping a colleague to deliver a training course for The Reader way back in 2015 and this was one of the poems the delegates read and discussed. It was an October day and the weather was awful, but there was real warmth in the room as people explored and unpicked what they saw in the poem. That moment really struck a chord with me and so, as a result, this poem has stuck with me since. I even read it as part of a program The Reader recorded with the Prison Radio Association, and the group members there got stuck in to making sense of it. I’ve read this poem with many groups, and on many training courses since that one on a rainy day in Birmingham, but this is the first try at learning it.

To prepare for the challenge I tried to recite the poem from memory, and confess that I failed dismally. But having read it aloud quite a few times, I’ve found that there’s a rhythm – perhaps a music – to the words, which has helped me to take it on board. I love the poem and the way the sadness turns to joy at the memory of love; the way that discontent with the self is tempered by remembering another’s affection. The poem is in four distinct chunks; three sets of four lines, and then a final pair of lines. Breaking it into those chunks is a handy way of taking it on board; at least, that’s what worked for me. I hope you’ll have a go at learning this, or another of Shakespeare’s sonnets (he did write plenty to choose from) and then you’ll be able to impress people by reciting it when you’re allowed to meet with them again.

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