Sonnet 69

This essay has a total of 2350 words and 12 pages.

Sonnet 69

Sonnet 65

1 Since brass, nor stone, nor boundless sea,
2 But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
3 How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
4 Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
5 O how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
6 Against the wreckful siege of batt'ring days
7 When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
8 Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
9 O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
10 Shall time's best jewel from time's chest lie hid?
11 Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
12 Or who his spoil o'er beauty can forbid?
13 O none, unless this miracle have might:
14 That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Withstanding Mortality
through Verse

Melissa Zyduck
Explication #1
Sonnet 65
Feb. 21st, 2001

Sonnets are rhymed poems consisting of fourteen lines, the first eight making up the octet
and the last six lines being the sestet. The basic structure of the sonnet arose in
medieval Italy, its most prominent exponent being the Early Renaissance poet, Petrarch.
The appearance of the English Sonnet, however, occurred when Shakespeare was an
adolescent, around 1580 (Moore and Charmaine 1). Although it is named after him,
Shakespeare did not originate the English sonnet form. The English sonnet differs slightly
from the Italian, or Petrarchian, Sonnet and the Spenserian Sonnet in that it ends with a
rhymed couplet and follows the rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg). Thus, the octet/sestet
structure can be alternatively divided into three quatrains with alternating rhymes and
ending in a rhymed couplet. William Shakespeare's Sonnet 65 is part of a sequence of one
hundred and fifty-four sonnets allegedly written sometime between 1592 and May of 1609
(Duncan 13; Moore and Charmine 1). In sonnets 1 through 126, the speaker addresses a young
man often referred to as the Youth, and in sonnets 127 through 154, a woman, or Dark Lady,
is addressed

Sonnet 65 is also part of a unit with Sonnet 64 (Best 1), the two coming together to form
their own "fearful meditation" (9) on time and ruin reaping youth and beauty from the
world and leaving only cold death (Cooney 3).

Shakespeare opens the poem with the speaker listing paradigms of the long-lasting
substances "brass" and "stone" (1). "Earth" and "boundless sea" (1) are also long lasting,
but are superior in that they are nearly limitless in extent. All of these elements, by
their nature, should be capable of holding out against "sad mortality" (2), but none of
them are free of its operations (Duncan, 240) as it "o'er-sways their power" (2). The
speaker then asks how "shall beauty hold a plea" (3) against "this rage" (3); the yet
unnamed force of time. "Rage" is used in two previous sonnets in similar context to
exemplify the blind fury of time's destructiveness and to help suggest the madness of an
unreasoning tyrant (Commentary 2). "And barren rage of death's eternal cold" is found in
Sonnet 13, line 12, and "And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;" is found in Sonnet 64,
line 4.

"Hold a plea" (3) has a legal sound to it, and helps give the reader the image of a
subject defending itself before an enraged and absolute judge, who is clearly not about to
take notice of the plea. It is interesting to not that in line 3 "rage" contains the
problem that has caused the emotions: "age" (Davies 1). In this portion of the sonnet,
"beauty" (3) is still a very general image, but the image gets clearer in line four where
"beauty" is as weak and helpless as "a flower" (4) (Cooney 1). At this point of the
sonnet, we are still more conscious of the lamenting tone of the speaker than of the items
he is listing and of the question he poses. The legal terminology continues in line four
with the word "action." Here, the legal action of beauty to prevent destruction is no more
effective than a flower trying to stop the march of time (Commentary 3). The metaphor
ranges beyond the legalistic images and sets up the picture of the flower being trampled
by the boot of time (Commentary 3).

The speaker then goes on to ask "how shall summer's honey breath hold out/ Against the
wreckful siege of battering days" (5, 6) when not even "impregnable" (7) rocks or "gates
of steel" (7) can. The sound of "summer's honey breath" (5) has a lovely, fresh appeal.
Summer is personified to be the Beloved Youth, a sweet-smelling person (Cooney 1), whose
breath can hardly "hold out" (6), an echo of "hold plea" (3) from above (Commentary 3),
against the siege of time.

With "the wreckful siege," Shakespeare gives the reader an image of warfare and a
battering ram assailing the gates of a city (Commentary 3). The imagery in these lines is
very subtle, and even ‘visualize' is too crude a word for what the reader must do when
taking in the lines. The imagery used sits somewhere between abstraction and fully
realized concreteness. The reader takes in the general meaning of the idea, while feeling
the full force of the physical items, the battering ram and steel gates, in the poem
(Cooney 1). The soft feel of line five contrasts with the warfare occurring in line six;
one line setting up a comforting feeling, and the other destroying it. This is an
excellent example of Shakespeare's ability to provide contrasting emotions that result in
eloquent poetic flow (Sparano 1).

Finally, in line eight, the enemy,"time," is identified by name as it "decays" even "gates
of steel." "Decays" is not normally a transitive verb, and it is left unknown as to how
exactly time decays everything (Commentary 3).

The poet then becomes more distraught in line nine, crying out "O fearful meditation!" He
is distraught not only by the fears he has already stated, but the fears that he has yet
to state (Commentary 3). The feelings being conveyed are more intimate and more intense as
the speaker asks, "shall time's best jewel from time's chest lie hid?" Here time is
personified again, but this time as a miser (Cooney 2) who hoards his best jewel, youth,
away. The chest he locks that jewel away in is often perceived to be a coffin (Commentary
4). Youth is also stolen away in Sonnet 63, in which time steals "away the treasure of his
spring" (8); spring usually representing youth and/or sexual prime in Shakespeare's works.
To Shakespeare, youth was often the most prized asset of a person's life, aside from
bearing children (Cooney 2). There can also be a double meaning in the jewel as a symbol
for youth. It can mean youth as a universal concept, or his Beloved Youth (Commentary 4).

Aside from where time has hid his most prized jewel, the poet also wants to know "what
strong hand can hold his swift foot back" (11). The hand and foot imagery suggests the
possibility of not only tripping up time as it speeds on its way, but also the helpless of
the hand raised in a futile attempt to stop its progress (Commentary 4). Here, again, time
is personified, this time as a speedy runner that cannot be stopped. In line 10 "time" is
reversed phonetically in "might" in line 13 (Davies 2).

Again, the poet questions how to stop time's effects with "or who his spoil of beauty can
forbid" (12). There are multiple meanings for the word "spoil" in this line. There are
echoes of spoils of war from the previous sections, but also the spoiling of beauty. There
is also the joint image of how the invaders of a town take their spoils of war by raping
the women, spoiling them and their beauty (Cooney 2).
Continues for 6 more pages >>