The Self-Pity Sonnet

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"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought/ I summon up remembrance of things past." -(Shakespeare, 1-2)

Just because I thought it was vaguely amusing on page 141, when Roberts attempted to summarize a Keat's poem in a paragraph (and show why it wouldn't work that way), I'm going to break down Shakespeare's sonnet:

When I'm sitting around feeling sorry for myself because bad things sometimes happened to me, and I didn't always get what I wanted in life (and some of the people I liked are dead), I can just remember you (dear friend), and it's really not all bad.

There.  No one can de-beautify a sonnet quite like me.  That being said, I do think this is a sonnet that many people can relate to, because sometimes we all have the tendency to remember the tough breaks we've had, and why life isn't as great as it could be.  Yet, if we're lucky, we can also remember that we have a friend who cares about us, and that pushes out pessimism, and makes the present more pressing than the past. 

Shakespeare gets picked apart a lot, especially by the students of our generation who feel he has been stuffed down their throats for too long, and wonder what's so great about him anyway?  Well, this is an example.  He wrote about things hundreds of years ago that we can still read about with understanding today.  I'm not the hugest Shakespeare fan, either, but even I have to admit, the man could find what was important in life, and managed to peg down the enduring themes of literature.  OK, so these are sort of easy to figure out now: death, love, and sex.  However, part of the reason these are the returned-to themes of writing is because Shakespeare helped to form these staples.

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6 Comments

Brooke Kuehn said:

I wonder whether the friend he speaks about in the last two lines is dead or alive. Originally i thought this friend was on of the ones he was grieving about earlier in the poem. I thought the speaker changed his thoughts from negative to positive by thinking about the good times he had spent with the friend rather than the actual death. The speaker seemed to become grateful for these memories rather than depressed. However, after reading your blog, i can see how he could just be talking about a friend that is still alive and makes living worthehile.

Josie Rush said:

Brooke, I definitely see how he could be talking about a friend who had died, then remembering the good times, etc. I think your interpretation makes the speaker sound less whiney, heh. Though, for me, since the speaker didn't mention the friend until the last couplet, I thought that perhaps he was talking about the unfortunate occurrences of his life, then recalling his friend. I don't think it's really important one way or the other, though. Good alternative interpretation.

Aja Hannah said:

I agree with you Josie. It's hard for me to understand Shakespeare sometimes, but he does say a lot of stuff that is worth while in a very original and beautiful way.

I liked your summary. It made him sound like a cranky, pitiful teenager at first. Oh! Did you notice he uses a real couplet at the end? Yea, that's where that mood shift lies.

Aja Hannah said:

Oh (for your portfolio) I mentioned your blog on Dianna's blog.

Josie Rush said:

Aja, thanks. And, yeah, I thought it was interesting that the shift in the end of the sonnet doesn't happen until almost the very end. I know a lot of sonnets are like that, but the ones we've been reading lately have the mood shift ealier (is it the seventh line that we've generally been seeing the change?). In this case, I think a brief mention worked better than going on about the turn for half the sonnet.

Brooke Kuehn said:

Maybe the shift is so brief to show that he only thinks positive thoughts for short periods of time. Maybe he is a cranky, pitiful teenager as aja said most of the time.

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Recent Comments

Brooke Kuehn on The Self-Pity Sonnet: Maybe the shift is so brief to
Josie Rush on The Self-Pity Sonnet: Aja, thanks. And, yeah, I tho
Aja Hannah on The Self-Pity Sonnet: Oh (for your portfolio) I ment
Aja Hannah on The Self-Pity Sonnet: I agree with you Josie. It's h
Josie Rush on The Self-Pity Sonnet: Brooke, I definitely see how h
Brooke Kuehn on The Self-Pity Sonnet: I wonder whether the friend he