Here is a sonnet that could be used with ‘Sonnet 18’ (page 74 in your textbook); it is similar but also different! This sonnet is, clearly, about the passage of time, the impact of time. This was a conventional enough theme in Elizabethan poetry, and many of Shakespeare’s sonnets deal with this theme. However, Shakespeare plays with the theme. He develops another theme in counterpoint to the theme of the passing of time.
by William Shakespeare
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
- Look at the first quatrain (i.e. lines 1-4). Comment on what the poet is saying in these lines, and on the imagery he uses.
- Look at the second quatrain (i.e. lines 5-8). Here the poet is more specific: he sees the impact of time on a particular form of life. What is he saying here? Which stage does he see as the high point of a person’s life? The imagery here shifts from pictures of the sea to the world of astronomy and astrology. Following the exact logic of Shakespeare’s images here is not easy: “once in the main of light” (line 5) means at one time receiving the full glory of heaven and “crooked eclipses ’gainst his glory fight” means that the malignant movement of the sun and stars will try to ruin this state of glory.
- What is the poet saying in the 8th line? How is the sense of this line related to the rest of the second quatrain?
- To what extent do you see the second quatrain as a development of the first? Do you see a theme unfolding?
- Shakespeare has been criticised for allowing the third quatrain to be very like any conventional “time” poem. How different is this quatrain from the first two? In what way is it conventional, do you think? Can you point to a fairly conventional metaphor, for example?
- Line 10 is often considered very fine: why, do you think? Consider the word ''parallels”. What is the speaker referring to here, do you think? The furrows made by a plough are also parallel: do you think this could be a secondary meaning? Could it relate to any imagery in line 12?
- Note that “times in hope” means not only future times but also times when things will be looked upon in another way (i.e. in the poet’s imagination, when the rarities of nature’s truth will not die). What is the poet saying in this final couplet? How does it relate to the rest of the poem? What similarities and differences do you see with the final couplet of Sonnet 18?