You know it even if the number “29” doesn’t exactly jog your memory. It begins “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes . . . .” Most obviously, both this first line and the commenter’s pseudonym include the word “eyes.” But that observation is about as keen as the strained associations to which I sometimes resort that then lead my husband to joke, “Yeah, that’s like saying that Hamlet and your patent law brief both have the word ‘the’ in them.” More significantly, “dry eyes” represent the opposite condition of the speaker in Sonnet 29. The sonnet’s speaker admits that feelings of shame, bad luck, personal failure, professional disappointment prompt him to “trouble deaf heaven with [his] bootless cries/And look upon [him]self and curse [his] fate[.]” He is then wracked with envy—
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[.]
But he finds a way to snap out of this self-loathing pity-fest by thinking of the one he loves—and writing a nifty sonnet about it. In doing so, his despair is replaced (for the moment) by a euphoric sense of gratitude and equanimity:
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.
One could call this sonnet “Ode to Being Bipolar.” But today, I prefer to think of it as “The Lawyer’s Lubricant” or “Hymn to Work”—as in, “work as a response to dark moments of self-doubt” or “doubling-down against dark doubts about the insignificance of one’s work.” I am not suggesting that lawyers tend to be bipolar (although there is all that empirical data about high instances of depression, substance abuse, divorce, even suicide.) But being a lawyer, which starts with the affliction known as “being a law student,” can be quite a grind—even for the highly compensated strivers among us, which does not characterize most of us, by any stretch. And even among the highly compensated one certainly does not find a neat correspondence with the set of “happy lawyers”—although those three or four who nail the sweet spot in that Venn diagram illustrating “wealthy lawyers” and “happy lawyers” probably deserve universal awe.
But, seriously, every lawyer could use his or her own “Old Dry Eyes” now and then, providing a gratuitous kick-start, just as the voice behind Sonnet 29 needed the affection of a beautiful youth to help him shake off the shadows and refuel for another round.
So go on: think about some lawyer or law student you know who might be struggling with a bit of existential despair right now and throw them a random ray of sunshine. You will make their day—just as I hope this post makes a mysterious pair of dry eyes twinkle just a bit.