Do you have worries? Things that keep you awake at night?
Of course you do; exams are coming up oh so quickly!
Sorry, shouldn’t joke as I’m sure you’re already irritable and liable to lash out given the slightest provocation.
This poem sings the praises of a life without worries and troubles and contrasts the life of a prince (who has to worry about all his people, his land, his palaces, his wealth) and a beggar (who has nothing at all).
Sweet are the thoughts that savour of content;
The quiet mind is richer than a crown;
Sweet are the nights in careless slumber spent;
The poor estate scorns fortune’s angry frown:
Such sweet content, such minds, such sleep, such bliss,
Beggars enjoy, when princes oft do miss.
The homely house that harbours quiet rest;
The cottage that affords no pride nor care;
The mean that ‘grees with country music best;
The sweet consort of mirth and music’s fare;
Obscuréd life sets down a type of bliss:
A mind content both crown and kingdom is.
Robert Greene (1560-92)
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
It seems that Greene had a pretty interesting life, quite the party animal of the Elizabethan era (c.1560-92). You might enjoy the first few paragraphs here, although there are not massively relevant to this poem.
His life seems to be a lesson in seizing the day and living for pleasure and enjoyment and this poem is probably a reflection of that. Rather than concerning himself with worries and troubles related to marriage, family and property, he lived without burden (somehow a poet casting off his wife and child made me chortle, such a mentally disturbed group of people: poets, not wives).
Cares or lack of cares. Duty vs. being carefree/unburden.
First, let’s deal with the title.
‘A Mind Content’ means a mind that is at ease, relaxed and happy. The state of being content suggests pure satisfaction, needing nothing and not wanting to change a thing.
The opening stanza explores the difference between the mind of a prince and a beggar. Being unburdened with problems is likened to wealth and power, but is associated with the lives of poor people rather than lords or royalty. The poor ‘scorn fortune’s angry frown’ implies that the less well off mock the wealthy because fortune and power bring anxiety and worries about maintaining and growing wealth and power. I’m not sure I’d agree that poor people don’t have problems, but that is clearly the point Greene wants to make or certainly that their problems are less troubling.
In the second, he tells us all about the contented lifestyle with a simple home, simple interests (country music); this is the type of life one might accuse of being boring and unremarkable and yet Greene calls it a ‘type of bliss’.
The final line is very powerful. Being untroubled is ‘both crown and kingdom’; so it’s a hugely important aspect of life, more important than wealth (‘kingdom’) and power (‘crown’). Lovely!
Language and techniques
I just can’t help myself writing about language as part of content. Don’t take this as a weakness though, see how naturally they form a discussion that you can use in your own essays!
The contrast between the life of a prince and a beggar is the first thing I’d be commenting on. It is contradictory to normal thinking; who on earth would rather be a beggar? However, here, Greene says ‘such minds, such sleep, such bliss’ which is a repetitive, continuous rejoicing for this pleasant state of existence that leads to a happy mind, restful sleep and enjoyable life.
As opposed to the prince who has an ‘angry frown’. Why? Well, if you had to worry about thousands/millions of subjects (people you rule), maintaining all your luxurious palaces, fighting wars against your enemies and keeping everyone happy at all times… you’d probably be scratching your head at night or having nightmares rather than falling into a deep slumber.
The second stanza uses alliteration to make the humble lifestyle seem particularly pleasant. ‘The homely house that harbours quiet rest’ benefits from the soft ‘h’ sound being repeated to mirror the quietness he then associates. Again the gentle repetition of ‘mirth and music’ adds to the impression of ‘sweet content’.
There’s not a lot I’d comment on here, just a couple of things with punctuation.
Notice that each line has a strong pause at the end of it, with semi-colons and a couple of colons used throughout. This slows the poem down and as we read it we almost reflect the contentment of the mind, pace and tone are pretty continuous. Something also you could potentially argue that the simple ABABCC rhyme scheme also reflects.
The other thing to note is the fifth and sixth lines of the first stanza, which are the only lines with caesuras. Here, the poet is listing all the benefits of a simple beggar’s life and we almost skip contentedly through each idea, then a notable pause before we are left to contemplate the fact princes often don’t enjoy the same freedom from worry.
I would argue it has the same contented tone as it is trying to describe. The pace and rhyme, as mentioned above, would attest to this and clearly this is not being discussed from the position of one with a world full of worries as words like ‘content’ and ‘sweet’ are repeated again and again (possibly should’ve mentioned that in Language and techniques, but well done for reading to the end!).