Shakespeare's Sonnets

Shakespeare's Sonnets Summary and Analysis of Sonnet 35 - "No more be grieved at that which thou hast done"

What's he saying?

"No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: / Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud:"

Don't feel guilty anymore about what you've done, since all beautiful things, like roses and fountains, have faults:

"Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, / And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud."

The beauty of the moon and sun is at times blocked, and worms and diseases destroy beautiful flowers.

"All men make faults, and even I in this, / Authorizing thy trespass with compare,"

Everyone makes mistakes, including me, since I've been justifying your wrongdoing,

"Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss, / Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;"

I myself make the mistake of smoothing over your mistake enough to justify even worse sins;

"For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense, / Thy adverse party is thy advocate,"

Because I'm defending your sin with reasoning, so the one you hurt is actually defending you,

And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence: / Such civil war is in my love and hate,"

And I'm arguing with myself, wanting to defend you but hurt by you, too,

"That I an accessary needs must be, / To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me."

So I am an accomplice to you, who has hurt me.

Why is he saying it?

Sonnet 35 continues the theme of the two sonnets that precede it, in which the poet was betrayed by the fair lord. In this sonnet, he forgives the fair lord because he loves him too much to continue resenting him, but is acutely aware that in justifying the offense of the fair lord, he too is offending himself. He has become an "accessary," or accomplice, to his own betrayal by using reason to defend the fair lord.

The offense the fair lord has committed against the poet is now identified as a "sensual fault," although more details are not provided in any of the sonnets. In Sonnets 33-34, the fault was ambiguous, and could have been a denial of the poet's love. The language in Sonnets 33-34 suggests that the fault is promiscuity and the resulting contraction of a sexually transmitted disease, but here the fair lord is called "that sweet thief which sourly robs from me," so it is likely that the offense is the same as that referred to in Sonnets 40-42: the stealing of the poet's mistress.

The biblical language of the previous two sonnets continues here in lines 5-8. Lines 5-6, "All men make faults, and even I in this, / Authorizing thy trespass with compare," suggests the idea of original sin in asserting that everyone is a sinner, including the poet himself. The word "trespass" alludes to the Lord's Prayer, which reads, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Lines 7-8 describe the fair lord's offense with the word "sin," continuing the theme.

Sonnet 35 uses legal terminology in lines 9-14, making a break from the biblical language that pervaded Sonnets 33-34 and the beginning of this sonnet. The phrase "bring in," evokes the idea of bringing in a witness or an argument; in this case, sense, or reason. The argument the poet has with himself is described as a "lawful plea," and through it the poet becomes "an accessary," or an accomplice to the crime.

The first four lines of the sonnet put forth the defense's argument; we do not see it as such until the legal metaphor is invoked later. The "sense," or reasoning used by the part of the speaker that wants to forgive the fair lord, is that all beautiful things have their faults, so of course the fair lord is no different. The idea of all roses having thorns is proverbial, and the negative connotation of clouds and eclipses is in accordance with the belief of the time. Clouds were thought to be pollutants and cause contagion, while eclipses were thought to foretell disaster.