Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
- Our speaker kicks things off by telling us that he's feeling 1) down on his luck and 2) super-unpopular. Bummer.
- He also uses the word "when," which tells us that he is no stranger to the kind of misfortune he's experiencing right now.
- By the way, the word "fortune" was spelled with a capital F in the first edition (1609) of Shakespeare's Sonnets, but not in some other editions.
- Fortune with a capital "F" is a.k.a. Dame Fortuna, the goddess of fortune and fate.
- In Shakespeare, "fortune" is often personified as an unpredictable and unreliable goddess who can raise men up to great heights or cast them down at any moment with the spin of her wheel.
- This makes our speaker sound a little paranoid (like Fortune is out to get him) and it also implies that he's not responsible for his situation.
- So, why does our speaker feel so down on his luck?
- We're not sure yet but the word "fortune" may have a clue in it. Since "fortune" can also mean monetary wealth, it's possible our boy is hinting that he's completely broke. But, at this point, we can't really know for sure so we'll keep our eyes peeled for references to money.
- Like we said, our speaker is also feeling rather unpopular and insists that he's a "disgrace" in the "eyes" of other "men."
- Technically, that's not possible, since the only things in people's eyes are their retinas. And maybe the occasional eyelash or sleep crumbs. So, this is a metaphor for the way other men harshly judge our speaker and think of him as a disgrace.
- Still, the way our speaker puts it gives us a pretty vivid image of a bunch of men totally mad-dogging him (a.k.a. giving him the old stink eye).
- So, where is our speaker, exactly? Out in public somewhere? Let's read on…
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
- Nope. Our speaker is "all alone" and bawling his eyes out because he's an outcast.
- Go ahead and read this line out loud. Did you notice how those first three words come flying out?
- "I all alone"has a pretty powerful sonic effect (known in the biz as alliteration – check out "Sound Check" for more) and we can totally imagine our miserable speaker crying out (or, "beweeping") as he utters these words.
- Dang. So, why's he in an "outcast state"?
- And what kind of outcast state is he talking about? Because the word "state" can mean a few different things. It can refer to a social condition, an economic condition, or even an emotional, or spiritual condition. We need to keep all these possibilities in mind.
- Before we move on, let's do a quick sound check. Shakespeare's sonnets are mostly written in iambic pentameter, a type of meter that sounds like a series of five heartbeats:
da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM.
- If you read line 2, it scans like this: "I all alone beweep my outcast state."
- So, that's the basic rhythm we're working with here. (You can go to "Form and Meter" if you want to know more about iambic pentameter in this poem.)
And trouble deaf heav'n with my bootless cries,
- Oh, boy. It just keeps getting worse. Here, we learn that the speaker thinks God doesn't care about his problems and is completely ignoring his useless ("bootless") cries.
- Our speaker is also getting a little snarky—he uses the word "trouble" to imply that his cries are getting on God's nerves.
- What's interesting is that our speaker doesn't actually use God's name here. Instead, he personifies "heav'n" (as if "heav'n" has got a set of "deaf" ears or something).
- What's up with that? Is the speaker so ticked off at God that he can't even say his name? Or, is he just a tad nervous about saying something really blasphemous like "Hey, God! Are you deaf, or what!?"
- Either way, the speaker's complaints about "deaf heav'n" give us a sense of his isolation.
- We also get the sense that our speaker is in a state of spiritual despair, which is often considered a sin.
- So, now we're reminded of a word the speaker used back in the first line of the sonnet: "disgrace." In the context of the first line, the word meant that our speaker was out of favor with other men and with fortune, right?
- But, now that we know our speaker feels like he's out of God's grace, the word "disgrace" takes on a new meaning in this sonnet (spiritual despair).
- Okay. We need to switch gears for a moment.
- Remember how we said the sonnets are mostly written in iambic pentameter? Well, this line is kind of a head scratcher in terms of meter. "Heav'n with" is a trochee, which is basically the metric opposite of an iamb. Instead of sounding like a soothing heartbeat, a trochee sounds like this: DUM-da.
- So what? Well, the effect of sticking a trochee in the middle of this line full of iambs is pretty jarring, and it emphasizes our speaker's bitterness toward God, or "heav'n." Check out "Form and Meter" for more metrical discussion.
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
- When our speaker says he looks upon himself, it seems like a metaphor for self-reflection. (Although, it's also possible that he's literally gazing into a mirror and cursing his bad luck, or "fate.")
- This tells us that our speaker is pretty introspective and it also reminds us that we are definitely reading a lyric poem. (Lyric poetry is all about the emotions and feelings of the individual speaker.)
- Also, did you notice how he says he curses his "fate"? It's similar to what he said about his lousy "fortune" back at line 1.
- This dude may be doing a lot of inner reflection, but he doesn't seem interested in taking any personal responsibility for his current situation. We wonder if that will change as we read on.