In Sonnet 19, the poet declares his love for the fair lord twice in line 9, “O! carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow;” and in line 14. “My love shall in my verse ever live young.” Though the general belief is that the speaker’s attitude toward the fair lord changes in Sonnet 20, the admittance of love for the subject in Sonnet 19 already hints at it. In fact, Sonnets 10, 13, and 15 the speaker has spoken of his love for the fair lord.
The poet addresses Time, making it into a character with whom he pleads. In the first four lines, the poet discusses time’s effects on the living things of the world. It “blunts” the paws of the lion, which would have been fearful in youth. Likewise, the “keen teeth” in the tiger’s mouth decay with time. Even the phoenix, a mythical bird that lived for hundreds of years before burning itself, then rising with new life from its own ashes – a symbol of immortality – lives out its years in accordance with time.
In lines 9-10, the words “carve” and “draw” suggest that Time is a sculptor or an artist. The speaker pleads with Time to, “carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,/ Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen.” The fair lord’s brow would be “carved” with lines and wrinkles as he aged, and this destruction of beauty is regarded by the speaker as the “one most heinous” crime. The pen being “antique” could refer to the age of the pen itself (obviously, it is as old as Time), or of its effects, as it ages people figuratively.
The poet’s plea with time Is described in lines 11-12: “Him in thy course untainted do allow / For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.” The speaker wishes for the fair lord to remain “untainted” by age, though everything else in the world will wither and perish. His reasoning here is that the young man must survive to serve as “beauty’s pattern,” or an archetype for what true beauty is, to “succeeding men,” or future generations.
The theme of the ravages of time is apparent here; now, instead of trying to persuade the fair lord to immortalize himself through procreation, the speaker aims to immortalize the young man himself, through his verse. This solution, however, is not clear until the final couplet of the sonnet, when the speaker gives up trying to convince Time to spare the fair lord, and opts to take action himself: “Yet, do thy worst old Time: despite thy wrong,/ My love shall in my verse ever live young.”
However, the sonnet takes a turn in the second quatrain as the speaker introduces the idea of procreation and the power of poetry to preserve beauty. The speaker suggests that the act of procreation and the creation of new life is a way to defy time’s destructive nature. By bearing children, individuals can ensure their beauty lives on in future generations.
The speaker then acknowledges the limitations of procreation, recognizing that even the children born from this act will eventually succumb to the ravages of time. However, the speaker offers an alternative solution in the final couplet: the power of poetry. The speaker asserts that through the written word, beauty can be immortalized and preserved. The poet’s verse, the sonnet itself, becomes a testament to the enduring nature of beauty and an everlasting record against the relentless passage of time.
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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 19 contemplates the contrasting forces of time’s destructive nature and the potential for beauty to transcend its grasp. The speaker, aware of the fleetingness of physical beauty, appeals to time to blunt its own power, recognizing that even the strongest and most beautiful entities succumb to its influence.
The sonnet suggests that procreation, the act of bearing children, offers a semblance of immortality in the face of time’s relentless march. Through offspring, individuals can pass down their qualities and ensure a continuation of their beauty and essence. However, the sonnet acknowledges the limitations of this solution, as even future generations are not exempt from the inevitable effects of time.
Shakespeare, through the medium of the sonnet, explores the tension between mortality and immortality, the transience of physical beauty, and the enduring power of art. His words resonate with a profound awareness of the fleeting nature of life and the relentless passage of time.
In Sonnet 19, Shakespeare encapsulates the human desire to transcend mortality and preserve beauty in the face of inevitable decay. Through his skillful use of metaphors, personification, and powerful language, he invites readers to contemplate the profound themes of time, beauty, and artistic creation.
In summary, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 19 contemplates the fleeting nature of beauty and the relentless power of time. It urges time to dull the strength of the lion, symbolizing its ability to erode physical attributes. The sonnet reflects on the transience of beauty, but also explores the notions of procreation and poetry as ways to combat time’s destructive force. Ultimately, the sonnet asserts that through poetry, beauty can be immortalized and withstand the ravages of time.