Shakespeares sonnets Sonnet 12 When I do count the clock that tells the time William

Shakespeare (1599) This sonnet, part of William Shakespeare's procreation sonnet set, is organized into two sections by its rhyme and its content, and although it follows the standard English sonnet form of three quatrains followed by a couplet, its syntax is more true to the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet structure. The first dozen lines, with three sets of alternative rhymes, establish that the speaker is worried about time and death. Indeed, this is the first sonnet in which the subject pronoun I governs the action. The last two lines give an answer, though it may not be seem very romantic. The speaker finds neither a spiritual nor an emotional answer; only creating new life can challenge time. Repetition of images of time and alliteration within the lines unifies the sonnet into a cohesive message.

The first quatrain uses many images of ominous colors and different parts of the day to express the speaker's feeling about the incessant movement of time. In line 1, the speaker says that he "counts the clock." But since a single clock is counted only once, the implied repetition creates a feeling of being trapped within time. In the second line, the speaker uses two images that are counterpoints, contrasting the "brave day" with its bright impression to the "hideous night," an evil dark image. We learn that the day has "sunk," an active verb that also describes the sun's action at twilight. overall, we see the progression of an entire day from joy to horror, which echoes in later sections. Lines 3 and 4 emphasize a series of brooding colors— "violet past prime" probably signifies twilight, with prime indicating the ninth hour of the day, and "sable" recalls the darkness, perhaps with "silvered" stars. Similarly, as a man's life progresses, he begins bravely, but after his prime he sinks into his twilight years, wherein his beard contains silver hairs.

The second quatrain continues to rely on images from nature, but begins to connect them to humanity. The "lofty trees . . . barren of leaves" illustrate the natural cycle of death. Death's counterpart is the promise of the following spring's rebirth with the "summer's green," particularly noted as wheat. After the summer, however, the once-green sheaves of wheat turn brown and are harvested. This image continues in the sonnet's clever metaphor found in line 8: "Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard." Borne, which means carried or birthed, is followed by bier, a type of cart used at harvest time but also a funerary coffin-stand. The juxtaposition of words parallels the life/death cycle with the growth and harvest of wheat. Extending this image, "the white and black beards" (l. 8) could be middle-aged male pallbearers or the dried husks of the wheat heads. Some scholars have suggested that this is further reminiscent of a funeral procession.

In the final quatrain, there is a major shift in tone as the speaker begins to use second person with "thy," most likely addressing the lovely boy. Line 10 clearly states, "thou among the wastes of time must go," meaning there is no escape from decay and death. It is the speaker's most deliberate statement yet of the inevitability of death and feeling of absence for the survivors. Lines 11 and 12 combine into a single, supporting image of the "sweet and beauties," which, like flowers or crops, must "die" and "see others grow."

The final turn is in the concluding couplet. Time is no longer a concept; it is now a proper noun. Its "scythe" is the long handled and bladed tool used for harvesting and part of the Grim Reaper's stereotype, and to "make defense" is to attempt fighting off Time. Breed literally means to have offspring, or children, and brave can mean to "deny," so Time will be denied only if one reproduces. This connects back to the end of line 12 when those that pass on "see others grow," with the others suggesting a new generation. The speaker is proposing that their children being born (and so a possible pun with borne) is the only way to fight against Time and Death's inevitable march.

See also Shakespeare's sonnets (overview).

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  • elizabeth
    When i do count the clock that tells the time summary?
    12 days ago

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