Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sonnet 35: No More Be Grieved At That Which Thou Hast Done - William Shakespeare

No more be grieved at what thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud,
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authórizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are:
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense -
Thy adverse party is thy advocate -
And 'gainst myself in a lawful plea commence.
Such civil war is in my love and hate,
   That I an áccessory needs must be
   To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

Considering the breadth of topics and poets that this blog has covered, it is somewhat surprising that I've only engaged with Shakespeare three times, one of which did not even provide any sort of analysis.  Shakespeare is one of the great sonnet writers in the English language, and it's not hard to understand why.  Even so long after their writing, they can speak to our hearts directly, becoming immediately modern and relevant.  I firmly believe that his writings will never go to the wayside.

The forgiveness of love, even when it is self-damaging, is the central theme and source of the narrator's pain in this sonnet.  The narrator's love, be it romantic or otherwise, clearly has some flaws.  That's okay.  The first four lines establish that all things, even beautiful things, have their (often painful) flaws.  Roses have thorns, fountains get muddy, the sun and moon are hidden from sight, flowers get dead spots.  The narrator admits as much of himself.  "All men make faults, and even I in this."

In this refers to the narrator's habit of enabling his love's faults.  "Authorizing thy tresspass" is the way he puts it.  He corrupts his love, and encourages bad behavior, instead of "salving" (healing).  He over-excuses the faults of the other.  Even when he is the one harmed, he advocates for his love.  "For to the adverse party is thy advocate."  The narrator's "civil war" is the way he enables this behavior from his love, gets hurt, and does it again regardless out of love.  He is the accessory to that which "sourly robs from me."  

To act out of love in such a self-destructive way, knowing full well that you are causing your own woes, but being unable to do otherwise.  That's as relevant today as it has ever been.  So often people are attracted to those who are bad for them, and they know it, but they persist anyways.  This poem will never stop being relevant, and this internal struggle will always play out.  It's somehow comforting to know that people who lived in such an almost unimaginably different past than us had such similar struggles in their daily lives.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you - a wonderful clear explication of lines that need close scrutiny to disentangle the sense. As you say, what an amazingly relevant sonnet. Another keeper for me.