The Countdown Of Mortality In Shakespearean Sonnet #12

1061 words - 4 pages

The Countdown of Mortality In many of his sonnets, William Shakespeare explores the issues of death, time, and beauty in human life. But perhaps none of the sonnets present as bleak an outlook on the as sonnet 12. The sonnet essentially confronts the reader with his/her own mortality. What is it about the sonnet that allows it to have such effect? The actual content of the poem is indeed effective, but the true power comes from the combination of content and form. Shakespeare flawlessly and effectively uses the mechanics of the poem to enhance its content, allowing it to have the devastating effect on the reader that it does. The content of sonnet 12 describes the aging of living things as time passes. The overall tone is solemn and the mood is set by the first line, "When I do count the clock that tells the time" (1). The first idea we come across is waiting. Watching a clock slows the passage of time, giving time a predatory attribute, as if it is slowly creeping up on us for the strike. It is important to note that the speaker repeatedly uses "I". Thus, the poem is subjective and the speaker is projecting upon his own death. Then in lines 2-8, the speaker's provides his observations over the course of time. He describes the "violet past prime" (3), the death of a kind of flower, and "sable curls all silvered" (4), the graying of one's hair. The idea Shakespeare brings up here is that time consumes everything. The word choices in these lines are indicative of this: "Sunk", "hideous", "barren", "girded", all these words present the idea of decay and rotting.In line 9, Shakespeare changes the subject matter: "Then of thy beauty do I question make / that thou among the wastes of time must go"¦"(9-10). Shakespeare is questioning the permanence of things beautiful. "Sweets and beauties" (11) are not immune to time's destructive forces. They too will decay just like everything else. Thus, Shakespeare destroys the importance of physical beauty because it is no exception to time's power. In the final rhyming couplet, Shakespeare concludes his grim projection of the future with a personification of time: "And nothing gainst time's scythe can make defence"¦" (13). A scythe is a tool with a long, curved blade characteristically held by Death. Thus, Shakespeare finds death and time to be one in the same. Time is destruction and decay, it is a predator, and it is a consumer. The many presentations of time in the poem succeed in reinforcing the utter hopelessness in the battle against time. Shakespeare does, however, offer a small glimpse of hope in the final line: "Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence." (14). By having children, one can pass on his/her beauty and delay time's victory. For Shakespeare, his "breed" may perhaps be his works. The beauty of his writings can stand up to the test of time. The knowledge that one will leave...

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