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Shakespeare Sonnet 34: "Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The Real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The Real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 34: "Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day"

In Sonnet 34 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker again employs the metaphor of weather to elaborate his concerns with the bumpy roads that his writing process sometimes has travel. As the speaker dramatizes his writing experience, he extends that weather metaphor of sun and clouds that provide the ups and downs, the crests and troughs, that both favor and then disrupt the ever evolving tumult of the speaker’s writing process.

Sonnet 34: "Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day"

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.

Reading of Sonnet 34

Commentary

Sonnet 34 dramatizes its subject, extending a metaphor of weather with sun and clouds with the troughs and crests that appear in the always evolving tumult of the speaker’s writing ability.

First Quatrain: Dramatizing a Complaint

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?

The first quatrain of Sonnet 34 finds the speaker addressing some person or something, inquiring with the rather blunt question that seems to imply some grievance: "Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day / And make me travel forth without my cloak?"

The speaker then continues with the issue, "To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way, / Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?" He did not wear his cloak, because he thought the weather would turn out to be pleasant and sunny.

However, contrary to the speaker's predictions, the clouds gathered and turned his fair weather prediction into a false guess. Their "rotten smoke" of the bank of clouds gave the speaker a drenched face and set of clothing, and he was not happy about this moist outcome.

Second Quatrain: Forgiving the Sun's Behavior

’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:

The speaker next opens up that he now is required to address the sun: "’Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break, / To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face." The sun has finally cut between the clouds, and the warm orb is now relieving the wet speaker's "storm-beaten face."

However, the speaker does not immediately forgive the sun's behavior, because although the star is now drying off the speaker's face, the speaker is still smarting as he considers himself injured by the earlier drenching: the "salve" is healing the "wound" but "cures not the disgrace."

The clever speaker has been put out by the rain. And worse it is that he had thought the weather would remain clear. He is mightily offended that the sun had permitted him to remain unprepared by failing to take his cloak along with him.

Third Quatrain: The Sun's Confession

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.

The speaker now ribs the sun again, as he suggests that in spite of the fact that the offending sun has confessed wrongdoing and attempted to give the speaker recompense, "the offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief / To him that bears the strong offence’s cross." It never aids the victim that the offender may confess sorrow over a misdeed; the victim continues to suffer because of the offender’s negligent actions.

The Couplet: Shining Forth

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

However, in the couplet, the speaker capitulates, taking back his abrasive upbraid because he now realizes that the daystar as well as all the weather's behavior has resulted in "tears" of "pearl." Rain affords richness to the land, assisting with the earth's fertility. The sun’s involvement in the entire creative process "ransom[s] all ill deeds."

Again, a Weather Metaphor

Noticeably, the speaker once more employs the extended metaphor of weather using the sun and clouds to create a little drama, featuring and constantly evoking the activity involved in the speaker's talent as a writer.

The speaker had thought when he first set out to create his poem that his muse was with him and shining on him with intensity. Thus the speaker traveled forth into the writing process with a cheerful composure, failing to realize that his muse would soon stop shining and allow the darkening clouds of doubt and frustration to gather, as he attempted to compose.

However, the speaker's creative juices begin to flow again, but he still was not amused that his muse would feign to abandon him so easily; therefore, he scolds the muse and protests that has been aggrieved by her. But then, the speaker finally admits that all's well that ends well, and even the muse’s capricious moments are capable of eventually composting the plowed garden of the speaker's inspiration.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: The Real "Shakespeare"

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes