Sonnet 12

Not all of Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets are written to the same lovers or for the same reasons, and their topics and tenors vary. But the overriding arc of the entire sonnet sequence is, I’d say, the destructive power of Time. This obsession over Time first comes to a fore in a big way in number 12, a powerful and beautiful sonnet. Written to the Young Man, the Poet warns him that time will destroy him and any memory of his beauty…if he doesn’t reproduce! Note the striking and evocative imagery of Nature’s destructive cycle–and how the progression of the seasons dovetails with the image of an aging human face. I suppose my aging face is as good an example as any.


When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls all silver’d o’er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.

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