Wednesday 16 December 2020

Sweet are the Uses of Adversity


Sweet are the Uses of Adversity


[The poem conveys the message that an adverse situation may seem ugly and unwelcome on the face of it. But such situations are full of new opportunities. If one starts looking for the usefulness in a given unfortunate, useless situation, the apparent bitterness of the circumstances vanishes in course of time. It is all in the conditioning of mind. One should have a positive attitude and approach to everything and one can make a heaven out of a hell.]

Duke senior: Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile, Hath not old custom made this life more sweet than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods more free from peril than the envious court? Here feel we but the penalty of Adam, The seasons’ difference, as the icy fang and churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, which, when it bites and blows upon my body, Even till I shrink with cold, I smile, and say, “This is no flattery; these are counsellors. That feelingly persuade me what I am.” Sweet are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head: And this our  life, exempt from public haunt,  Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in everything : I would not change it.



 [William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was born at Stratford-on-Avon and educated at a Grammar School. He had established himself as an actor and playwright by 1592. One of the greatest writers of English Literature, Shakespeare is a phenomenon unto himself. He has no parallel anywhere in world literature. Shakespeare has written thirty seven plays and a sonnet sequence consisting of some 156 sonnets. Some of Shakespeare’s best poetry is found in his plays.]



exile:                    expulsion


pomp:                   show and glamour


peril:                     danger


penalty of Adam : Adam was punished and sent to this world to suffer extreme heat and cold as the seasons  change


envious:                  jealous


 fang:                       teeth (of a snake)


churlish chiding:    rude and rough teasing, rebuking, punishment


venomous:             poisonous


exempt:                  free from


Enjoying the poem:

1.     What is ‘adversity’?

Ans. Adversity means a difficult situation. It is a state of unhappy life. For example, Duke Senior is compelled to lead a forest life. So, he is victim of adversity. However, the uses of adversity can be sweet with positive attitude.


2.     Why is ‘pomp’ described as ‘painted’ and ‘court’ as ‘envious’?

Ans. The courtiers lead an artificial life. The pomp of this life shows it as pleasing and hides the reality of its underlying ugliness. So, it has been described as paint because paint also gives external brightness and hides internal ugliness.

Courtiers compete with each other to seek favours from rulers. They are smitten with jealously if a rival became a favourite of the king. So court is described as envious.


3.     Why are the woods ‘more free from peril than the envious court’?

Ans. In the envious court every courtier is a danger to the life of other courtiers. All courtiers indulge in intrigues against their rivals. The rulers also encourage rivalry among them. There are no such dangers in the woods where shepherds live a simple and happy life in the company of nature. The main danger in the woods is change of seasons. Hence, the woods are ‘more free from peril than the envious court’


4.     Why doesn’t the speaker find any flattery in adversity?

Ans. Flatters are those who seek money and benefits from their superior. So where there is no money power, there is no money flattery. Adversity has no relationship with flattery. There are no flatterers among the poor. When people are troubled or worried, they do not think of flattery. Adversity introduces man to his true self. Therefore, the speaker does not find any flattery in adversity.


5.     How does he find adversity sweet? [hint: ‘old custom’]

Ans. The speaker praises adversity. He says his life is sweet although he is living in a forest as an exile. There are no flattering courtiers or jealous intriguers to cause mischief. He is cut off from court life but is in the company of nature. Objects of nature like trees, stones, and streams teach him useful lessons. Hence, he finds adversity sweet.


6.     What is the ‘penalty of Adam’?

Ans. We are suffering for the sins of Adam. He disobeyed God and was expelled from Eden where he had been living happily with Eve. In this world where we live, there is pain and suffering. This pain is the results of Adam’s folly. God said to him, “Now you will live by the sweat of your brow”. As a results of that penalty, we earn our bread with hard labour.


7.     How does the speaker ‘find tongues in trees’?

Ans. Trees convey to the speaker that nature’s company is better than that of flattering courtiers. Trees have a silent language. It is understood by those human beings who live in their company. To them, they give advice. It is in this way that they talk and communicate words of wisdom to human beings and the speaker finds tongues in trees.


8.     What is the inspiration do we derive from the poem 'Sweet are the Uses of Adversity'?

Ans. This poem convey a message that life lived in the company of nature is simple, honest, truthful and pleasure-giving. Nature is our nice companion and teacher. Thus, the most important inspiration, that we derive from this poem, is “sweet are the uses of adversity”. It should be taken as a blessing in disguise and not a misfortune.


9. Read any poem which inspires you to face the reality of life and discuss it with your friends.

Suggested reading: If You Can Keep Your Head – Rudyard Kipling.