Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets Summary and Analysis of Sonnet 34 - "Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day"

What's he saying?

"Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day, / And make me travel forth without my cloak,"

Why did you tell me it was going to be a nice day, so that I went outside without a coat,

"To let base clouds o'ertake me in my way, / Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?"

When in fact, the day was overcast, and I couldn't see your beauty?

"'Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break, / To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,"

It doesn't suffice that you, the sun, shine through the clouds to dry the rain after the storm,

"For no man well of such a salve can speak, / That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace:"

Because that's only a cure for the wound, but not the shame:

"Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief; / Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:"

It also doesn't help me that you're ashamed, since I have still lost something:

"The offender's sorrow lends but weak relief / To him that bears the strong offence's cross."

Your repentance does not heal my burden.

"Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds, / And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds."

But when you cry, I forgive you.

Why is he saying it?

Sonnet 34 continues the theme of Sonnet 33, in which it became clear that the fair lord had betrayed the poet in some way; either by contracting a sexually transmitted disease through promiscuity, or by denying their relationship. Sonnet 34 expands the idea that the fair lord has denied friendship or love to the poet after having promised to be forthcoming with it. Only the fair lord's tears, valuable because they demonstrate true regret, are enough to convince the poet to forgive him.

The metaphor of the sun being overtaken by clouds is continued from Sonnet 33, as well. The fair lord is the sun, and in promising "such a beauteous day," or assuring the poet of his love, encouraged the poet to "travel forth without my cloak," or let his guard down and become vulnerable, unprepared for the bad weather that was to come. However, the "base clouds" of Sonnet 33 return, overtaking the poet as he sets out. Their "rotten smoke" bars the poet from the fair lord, though the fair lord had assured him this would not happen.

Imagery of healing pervades this sonnet, with the idea that the fair lord can only cure the speaker's plight by shedding tears. Lines 7-8, "For no man well of such a salve can speak, / That heals the wound, and cures not the disgrace," refer to the fair lord drying the speaker's tears. A "salve" is a healing lotion, but in this case, it only heals the wound without curing the shame of having acquired that wound. In line 9, the speaker declares, "Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief," with "physic" being medicine. The fact that the fair lord feels shame does not cure the speaker's grief.

Hints of sin in a biblical sense are apparent, specifically the apostle Peter's denial of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. After denying his friendship with Christ three times, Peter repented and shed tears, as the fair lord does in Sonnet 34. This comparison is enforced by the diction the poet uses; for example, the use of the word "repent," and calling the fair lord an "offender," or a sinner. In line 12, the speaker likens himself to "him that bears the strong offence's cross," or Christ.

The final couplet is a complete reversal of the speaker's stance throughout the sonnet that no matter what the fair lord does, he will not forgive him the betrayal. With the exclamation, "Ah!" in line 13, it is as if the speaker notices the fair lord's tears in that moment. The metaphor, "those tears are pearl," likens the tears to precious pearls. In addition to having a high monetary value, pearls could be ground up and used for medicinal purposes; thus, the healing theme is continued through the final couplet.