In celebration of the Summer Solstice this morning, let’s enjoy The Bard’s sonnet famous for its seasons metaphor. Three winters have overcome three summers; and three springs have led to three autumns. It even references June:
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn’d
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn’d,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Ah! yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Steal from his figure and no pace perceived;
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived:
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred;
Ere you were born was beauty’s summer dead.
Beyond the beauty and cleverness of the metaphorical seasonal changes–and the natural aging that comes with them–Shakespeare tantalizes us with what seems to be a time span of how long he’s known the Young Man. About three years (or, if you’re a numerologist or conspiracy theorist, 9 years or 12 years). And so for those of us who like to hope or believe that the Young Man was an actual person Will Shakespeare knew in real life, this sonnets seems to suggest that when this was written, Will had known his Young Man for three years.
But the important thing about this sonnet is its message, one Shakespeare obsessed over in many of the sonnets and in his plays: time, and how it so slowly steals away youth and beauty:
‘So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived’
Yet, despite the aging of time, Love can blind us to those changes.
The image comes from a tourism poster for Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace and home town), produced by the Midland and Scottish Railway, circa 1923.