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Sonnet LX – William Shakespeare

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‘Sonnet LX’ was written by William Shakespeare. It is a poem which focuses around the inexorable passage of time and how time affects human life in its different stages. Throughout the poem, we find the arguments within the three quatrains are linked. The poem is made of a Shakespearean sonnet; this is because it has 14 lines, iambic pentameter and has a rhyme scheme of abab, cdcd, efef, gg. It is a block poem but the rhyme scheme marks the three quatrains and final rhyming couplet. The title was chosen by Shakespeare due to the fact that in an hour there are 60 minutes and in a minute there are 60 seconds, and since the poem is focussed around time it would be the most suitable title. The poem opens comparing the passage of time to the unceasing, unrelenting motion of the waves. Shakespeare feels that just as the waves batter onto the shore one after the other, the same can be said for time as one minute takes the place of the one before it. An extra syllable can be found in the first line, breaking from the ten syllable pattern of the iambic pentameter.

This might remind us of the notion of time stretching into eternity, even if human life will not. As the poem continues, we find that the poet’s attitude towards life is not a very friendly one, most notably when he says the words “in sequent toil all forwards do contend”. This seems to evoke the feeling that life is anything but easy, and harsh sounds of some of the syllables in this line seem to do nothing but emphasize this, such as the words “toil” and “contend” which denote hard work and a struggle. The next quatrain contains the different stages of human life described as the stages of the sun during the day. This may be interpreted as a link to the previous stanza, as in the last stanza there was an image of sea and in this stanza there is the image of the sun. The poet describes the stages of the sun, he first explains how the sun’s birth appears as it rises above the distant horizon out of the sea, “in the main of light”. The poet then continues by stating that the sun’s crawl towards its noon-time position signifies youth, a prime time in human life. Youth is usually accompanied by good looks, health and strength, a time which is usually thought of as trouble-free or carefree.

Shakespeare then write about how he believes when one reaches maturity, it is “crown’d”, meaning a sense of accomplishment is felt, but then time seems to take all it has given and reverses the process of giving humans beauty, strength or health. This idea is evoked by “crooked eclipses” which seem to lessen the beauty and glory of the sun. There is a symbolic significance of the circular shape of the sun and its circular cycle which is never ending; this reflects the inevitability of the passage of time and the cycle of human life. The use of a caesura evokes contrasts between light and darkness, youth and old age and different stages of the sun’s cycle. The caesurae after the naming of each stage of life seem to indicate the relatively short passage of time an individual will spend within each time. We are left to contemplate how human life arrives at its final stages, which is accompanied by the loss of independence, health, strength and beauty. In the last quatrain found in the poem the poet moves on to describe the ravages of time on the human frame, as he describes how time delivers old age to a person. The poem continues as time is personified as Nature’s predator; an ugly beast or monster that “delves” and “feeds on” the passage of time and youth. It robs us of the optimism, energy, quickness and agility of youth.

Time etches lines on beautiful faces, thus detracting somewhat from the fresh and youthful appearance of beauty. Time is then described like some ugly monster or savage beast in the phrase “Feed on the rarities of nature’s truth”, and all that is unique, valuable, worthy and beautiful within us succumbs to the passage of Time. Time also appears to teach youth a lesson; that youth is not as invincible as it thought it was because eventually youth must succumb to old age. Overconfidence and ambitions we often have in youth might be subdued as we come face to face with time and its realities. We all end up the same way and nothing remains. The popular image of Time and Death as a figure holding a scythe and an hourglass appears now in the poem as the poet says that nothing within the human life can withstand this onslaught. This evokes the idea that we live on borrowed time and that time gives us the gift of life that will be collected at the end of the day. The volta before the final rhyming couplet is almost like a turning point in the argument, maybe even an answer to the dilemma. Shakespeare asserts his belief that his poetry will withstand the passage of time as he says “And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,”

He hopes that his poetry will love on forever, immortalising his friend to whom he is writing this poem to. The poet says that his poetry will go on to praise his friend’s youth and beauty, despite the ravages of time. Thus these lines will remain immortal and will enable the young man’s beauty to live forever. This quest for immortality may be seen as a parallel to the satisfaction parent’s desire from seeing children or grandchildren grow, delivering satisfaction from this despite the fact they are succumbing to Time themselves. I enjoyed reading this poem due to the fact I feel it brings out many interesting points and lessons about time and life, one of them being that time is invincible and a phenomena man cannot compete with, therefore we should appreciate every second we are blessed with even when we are going through a tough time. The poem also made me feel like time is a ruthless, horrible person, and it made me think about how it often tricks young people who focus their lives around the phrase ‘I’ve got time ahead of me’, but before they know it time eats at them and they are forced to look back at what they’ve accomplished and regret what they haven’t managed to.

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