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. ? — William Shakespeare The Dissection of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12 William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12 portrays the impending limitations of time. The speaker asserts that beauty fades as everyone must fall to the wastes of time. The speaker’s only solution to this inevitable end is reproduction. Only through one’s descendants can such good traits be regenerated.The poet presents this message to the reader through diction, figurative language, and imagery. In quatrain 1, the speaker begins with emphasizing how quick time drifts away when we are attempting to keep track of time.
The opening quatrain is mixed with both positive and negative diction. The poet uses “brave” and “prime” to provide the reader positive characteristics that something inhibits before time takes such joys away. The words “hideous” and “sunk” represent the properties of something that has aged.In lines 1 and 2 the speaker dramatizes how much energy he has wasted when he has “count the clock that tells the time”. During this specific activity he explains how he loses many precious hours as “the brave day sunk in hideous night”. Having words “night” and “day” represent periods in his life.
In lines 3 and 4 the speaker recalls holding a “violet past prime”. The poet remarks the signs of ageing on the violet, by stating how the flower was “silver’d o’er with white”. In the second quatrain, the speaker again reflects upon time’s ageing effect on life.In line 5 and 6, the speaker recalls of “lofty trees” “barren of leaves” that have seen better days when they once gave “the herd” shelter from “heat”. Time does not only take possessions from yourself but also what you have provided for others. In lines 7 and 8, the poet personifies “summer’s green” being gathered for harvest such as an old man with “bristly beard” would be taken his funeral.
In the third quatrain, the speaker questions beauty’s value. The poet sees no significance in beauty since it must eventually cease to “the wastes of time”.The poet uses a set of positive words “beauty”, “beautiest”, and “sweets” to imply a joyful tone when describing one’s prime, while using another set of words, “wastes”, “forsake”, and “die” to provide a negative tone when one loses the gift of beauty. In line 11 the speaker explains how “sweets” and “beauties” do eventually “forsake”. Then in line 12 the speaker states that beauties “die as fast as they see others grow”, meaning that even something so beautiful cannot escape time’s wrath.
The speaker ends the sonnet with a solution to “Time’s scythe” in the final couplet.The poet uses positive diction such as “defence”, “breed”, and “brave” to provide the reader some comfort in this depressing sonnet. In line 13 the speaker explains metaphorically that no one “can make defence” “ gainst Time’s scythe”, scythe represents time’s ability to deteriorate anything.
In the last line of the sonnet the speaker recommends the reader to “breed” in order to carry on their good traits and prepare their offspring for life and death. By the laws of time we can only be immortalized through our descendants.