Monday, 21 November 2011

Music Monday: Rufus Wainwright

An awful admission for an English teacher, this, but I'm not that familiar with Shakespeare's sonnets, beyond the famous sonnet 18 ("Shall I compare thee...") and a couple of others that I studied at university years ago.  This is a state which I need to remedy, because I have fallen deeply in love with Rufus Wainwright's rendering of Sonnet 29.

A traditional sonnet is focused on the object of the speaker's affection, whereas this poem is more speaker-focused, concerning itself (to begin with, anyway) with the experiences of the writer rather than their feelings for another.  Only at the end do thoughts turn to a lover, when the poet "think[s] on thee", and his previously despairing wallow turns into something more joyous, "like the lark at break of day arising".  I love the contrast of the image of the depressed young poet in the first octave with the lover of the last sestet.  Beginning with a rather careless, throwaway,"yet..", he decides that actually, he can put up with all of it if he thinks of "thy sweet love".

Wainwright set the words to music as part of a fundraising project for RADA in 2002, and what a spectacular job he did.  Contrasting piano and banjo, and then accordion and cello, it is a startlingly simple orchestration which allows focus to fall on the lines of the poem.

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 possess'd,
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 remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

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