Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee,
- There's a pretty dramatic shift happening here. Just when our sulky speaker has been thinking about all the things he thinks he doesn't have and all the stuff he doesn't enjoy anymore, he suddenly remembers someone from his past: "thee."
- Okay. Who the heck is "thee"?
- Based on what's we've read so far in this sonnet, we don't really know who "thee" is but we do know that when our speaker remembers this person, it cheers him up.
- How do we know this? Well, "Haply" means "by chance," and it's also a pun on the word "happy," so we get the sense that when the speaker just so happens to think of "thee," it fills him with joy. Yay!
- By the way, this sudden and dramatic shift is what's called a "turn" or a "volta," and almost all of Shakespeare's sonnets have one.
- How do you recognize a volta? Here, the word "yet" is the big tip-off that the speaker has just had an "ah ha!" moment and is beginning to snap out of his bad mood.
- What's the effect of this? Well, as we read, it makes us feel as though the sonnet is happening in real time—as if we're experiencing the speaker's thoughts and emotions as they unfold.
[...] and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth sings hymns at heaven's gate;
- Hmm. Looks like our once-totally-bummed out speaker is in a much better mood.
- Here, he uses simile to say that he feels "like" a "lark" (a bird) that flies up to heaven and sings hymns.
- That's a pretty stunning image, don't you think?
- In reminds that our speaker's spirits were pretty low—kind of like the "sullen" (dark or mournful) earth that our lark arises from.
- But now the speaker's mood has been completely elevated—like a high-flying bird.
- Did you notice that the word "sing" appears three times in this quatrain? (In the words "despising," "arising," and, finally, in the word "sing.")
- What's the effect of all this repetition? It makes the whole quatrain sound like uplifting music. (A "hymn" maybe?)
- Go ahead and read it out loud. The whole thing sings, sings, sings—just like that lark.
- So, all this talk about how the speaker feels like a bird singing at "heaven's gate" reminds us of line 3, where he complained about "heav'n" being "deaf" to all his crying and boo-hooing.
- Does this mean our speaker is on better terms with God? Is God actually listening to him now?
- If so, why does our speaker still avoid saying God's name? (He uses the word "heaven" again.)
- It seems pretty clear our guy is no longer in a state of spiritual despair, but we're not quite sure that God has anything to do with it because the speaker doesn't say that God has put him in a better mood. He says that thinking about "thee" makes him happy, right?
- It sounds like he sees this "thee" person as his spiritual salvation, don't you think?
- Before we move on, let's talk about how line 11 spills over into line 12 without any punctuation or end stop. (That's called enjambment, by the way.)
- It's a pretty snazzy move on Shakespeare's part, because when a line of poetry spills over into the next one, it's sort of like the action of our flying bird.
- Neither the lark nor the line can be stopped.
- We just love it when the form of a poem mimics the action of its subject. Check out "Form and Meter" for more of that kind of love.