Poetry Series III: Sonnet 34

It’s Tuesday and that means it’s time for Poetry Series day 3! Today we’re moving on to sonnet 34, which i find very entertaining in general, and I think highlights a lot of Shakespeare’s more whiny characteristics

Sonnet 34

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
‘Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak,
That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:
The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s cross. 
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

Analysis

The start of the poem sounds happy, but then it does a hard reverse at line three and states that there are “clouds” and a “rotten smoke” that are ruining Shakespeare’s day. From there, it is quite miserable and talks about how horrible the day is for six lines. The next four discuss “shame” and “repentance”, stating that even though the woman who made him “travel forth” that day feels bad, it isn’t enough to heal all of his wounds. The final couplet does a complete reversal and states that her tears are “rich” and they atone for everything that was formerly wrong.

This poem is confusing because it feels as though the couplet is completely at odds with the rest of the stanza. The poem as a whole is not what you would expect from a sonnet, since it is actually talking about how unworthy the girl is instead of the other way around.

Because of the last few lines use of “repent”, “cross”, and “ransom” (which used to have religious connotations, as being released from damnation), the poem takes on a religious context, and it almost seems as though the author is writing about Jesus.

The use of weather analogies helps the poem because they are very clear to the reader– clouds are clearly bad, beautiful days clearly good– and so they are able to convey the emotion of the writer very clearly. At one point, Shakespeare speaks of his “storm beaten face” and in many ways this entire poem is a surprise storm of emotions. At first, it is positive, and then aggressive and harsh and unbearable, and after that, as the rain calms, it becomes bitter, but not quite so mad. The tone in the final quatrain is more one of sadness, and longing for it to be over. The final couplet can be interpreted as the rainbow on the other side of the storm– all is forgiven after the tears have fallen, and the writer is happy once more.

let's talk

What’s your favorite part of sonnet 34? Do you find Shakespeare as annoying as I do? Did you notice anything interesting about this sonnet?

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