‘Sonnet 35,’ also known as ‘No more be griev’d at that which thou hast done,’ is number thirty-five of one hundred fifty-four that Shakespeare wrote over his lifetime. It is part of the Fair Youth sequence of sonnets which lasts from sonnet number one through sonnet number one hundred twenty-six. ‘Sonnet 35’ is one in a short sequence that is generally referred to as the estrangement sonnets. They last from sonnet 33 to 36. They are all concerned with the speaker responding to something the Fair Youth did.
In this particular sonnet, unlike the few that have come before it, the speaker tells the youth that he has forgiven him. He is ready to forget about what happens and even argues against the points he made in the previous sonnets. He discounts the metaphor that compares the youth to the sun and his sins to clouds saying that this is normal. The speaker realizes that all men make mistakes.
‘Sonnet 35’ by William Shakespeare is a fourteen-line sonnet that is structured in the form known as a “Shakespearean” or English sonnet. The poem is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. They follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and are written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers.
Shakespeare makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Sonnet 35’. These include but are not limited to metaphor, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, metaphor, is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. For example, in the final lines the speaker compares himself to a thief’s accomplice, working with the Fair Youth to rob himself.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “mud” and “moon” in lines two and three and “party” and “plea” in lines ten and eleven. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines twelve, thirteen, and fourteen.
No more be grieved at that which 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.
In the first lines of ‘Sonnet 35’ the speaker begins by alluding to the previous sonnets in which he discussed a mistake the Fair Youth made. This beautiful young man did something that disappointed and angered the speaker. But now, he is ready to forgive and forget. He tells the youth that he shouldn’t be upset anymore about what he “hast done”. He compares the mistake to the thorns on roses and mud in fountains. These things happen or exist and there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.
The images of clouds, the sun, and the sky are resumed from the previous sonnets. He reminds the youth of the previous comparison between him and the sun and his sins and clouds. The sun, he says, is sometimes covered by clouds. The last line of this stanza presents the reader with the last comparison which is between the youth’s sin and the “loathsome canker” or worm that lives “in sweetest bud,” or the most beautiful flower.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authórizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing these sins more than these sins are.
In the second quatrain of ‘Sonnet 35,’ the speaker continues to discuss the universality of mistakes. He brings himself into these comparisons by saying that even he is at fault by making all these comparisons. He is excusing the youth’s transgressions by comparing them to other things. In this, he is corrupting himself. He is taking the other side when before now he had chastised the youth for his mistake. The speaker now believes that he’s making more excuses for these sins that the sins deserve.
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense—
Thy adverse party is thy advocate—
And ‘gainst myself 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.
In the final quatrain of ‘Sonnet 35,’ the speaker says that he, the person hurt by the youth’s sins, is now advocating for him. He is “thy advocate”. He has turned the entire thing around so that he is working against himself to plea for the youth. There is a “civil war” inside himself between “love and hate”.
The final couplet concludes the poem by using a metaphor to compare what the speaker is doing by forgiving the youth to helping a “sweet thief,” or villain who is there to rob him.