Sonnet 34

Shakespeare Sonnet 34

VVHy didſt thou promiſe ſuch a beautious day,
And make me trauaile forth without my cloake,
To let bace cloudes ore-take me in my way,
Hiding thy brau’ry in their rotten ſmoke.
Tis not enough that through the cloude thou breake,
To dry the raine on my ſtorme-beaten face,
For no man well of ſuch a ſalue can ſpeake,
That heales the wound, and cures not the diſgrace:
Nor can thy ſhame give phiſicke to my griefe,
Though thou repent, yet I haue ſtill the loſſe,
Th’offenders ſorrow lends but weake reliefe
To him that beares the ſtrong offenſes loſſe.                           crosse
Ah but thoſe teares are pearle which thy loue ſheeds,
And they are ritch, and ranſome all ill deeds.

Sonnet 34 expands the argument of Sonnet 33 ending with a range of Christic allusions similar to those of Sonnet 33. Its opening “thou,” on first reading seemingly the youth, is later found to be the sun. The sestet opens with “thy shame,” which subsequently is identified as the youth’s. The sonnet is constructed around parallels between the octet’s “raine” and the sestet’s “teares.”

It is the sun that promises “such a beautious day,” so beautiful that the poet goes forth “without my cloake,” without forethought or protection; “trauaile” means ‘travel’ but includes the sense of labouring, ‘travail.’ “To let bace cloudes” suggests a malignant purpose and recalls the “basest cloudes” of the previous sonnet. The clouds “ore-take” the poet on his journey, “hiding” (compare “hide” of Sonnet 33.7) the sun’s “brau’ry” or ‘splendour’ in “their rotten smoke,” the disease-bearing vapours associated with fog. It is not sufficient that the sun provide temporary respite by momentarily breaking through the clouds and drying the rain on the poet’s “storme-beaten face.” Indeed no man would “speake” well of such a balm (“salue”), which touches only the surface (“heales the wound”), but which “cures not the disgrace,” the deeper malady or “shame.”

The sestet’s opening “thy” redirects the metaphor to the friend, who is guilty, like the sun, of disgrace or shame. He may express sorrow, but it does not alleviate the poet’s hurt; it does not “giue phisicke,” ‘medicine’ or ‘cure,’ to his “griefe.” The friend may “repent,” but the poet continues to feel the “losse” caused him. Indeed the “sorrow” of the offender “lends but weake reliefe” to one who “beares the strong offenses crosse” (“crosse” is the standard emendation to the quarto’s repeated “losse”). Expressions of regret, then, convey the youth’s sorrow, which the poet finds acceptable but scarcely a remedy. His heart, however, is touched by the youth’s “teares.” “Ah,” he exclaims, “those teares are pearle which thy loue sheeds,” where “sheeds” is less “sheds,” which is true of tears, and more ‘pours out;’ “sheeds” was a biblical rendering of fundere (to pour out) and was used specifically of love, for example, “because the loue of God is sheed abroad in oure hertes” (Rom. 5.5; GB). 1 Such tears are pretious (“ritch”) and “ransome,” ‘redeem’ or ‘cancel out’ all “ill deeds” or ‘betrayals.’

These later lines reintroduce the Christic subtext of Sonnet 33, firstly with the reference to “him that beares the strong offenses crosse.” Christ was made to “bare his crosse” (John 19.17; BB) and by his death ransomed the ill deeds of sinners, Matthew claiming that “the sonne of man came . . to geue his lyfe a raunsome for many” (20.28 BB), while Paul states he “was deliuered to death for our sinnes” (Rom. 4.25; GV with its sidenote, “To pay the ransome for our sinnes”). The tears of repentance shed by the youth are “pearles” that are “ritch,” not unlike the “pearle of great price” of the Matthew parable (13.46; GV), for the ransom obtained by Christ was one “bought for a price” (1 Cor. 6.20; GV, which explains that “God himselfe hath bought vs, and that with a great price”). If the youth’s offence involved infidelity, the Pauline context adds greater weight to the poet’s forgiveness, since the body, through the rich price paid by Christ, is no longer prey to the “fault of the flesh,” because “Christ salueth this disease” (Rom.10.4; GV sidenote). The youth’s tears, as ransom, thus gain pardon from the poet and cure the “disgrace.” Of such a “salve,” which cures the deeper “disgrace,” the poet finds he can “speak well.”


34.1. Both the Bishops’ Bible and the Geneva Version have “shedde.”