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Shakespeare Sonnet 2

Updated on April 25, 2020
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The real "Shakespeare"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 2

In marriage sonnet # 2, the speaker continues to implore the young man to take a wife and produce offspring. He cautions the young lad to act before he begins to age and lose his youth, vitality, and beauty.

Sonnet 2

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 2

Commentary

The speaker in Shakespeare sonnet #2 continues the "Marriage Sonnets" imploring the young man to marry and produce offspring before he grow to old and decrepit!

First Quatrain: Old at 40

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gaz’d on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:

Life expectancy during the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Britain was approximately fifty years; therefore, at the age of forty an individual was considered old. The speaker’s metaphoric use of a ploughed corn field reminds the young man that by forty, he will have face full of wrinkles and look like that literal corn field ploughed into "deep trenches." An unsightly spectacle in any culture at any time!

The speaker knows that the young target of his pleading has a considerable amount of pride in his youthful, handsome appearance. Thus, in projecting the notion that one day in the future the young lad's looks will be degraded to a "tatter’d weed," the speaker hopes to score some points for his argument. That weed face will be worthless in trying procure a bride!

Second Quatrain: Beauty Stashed in a Withering Face

Then being ask’d, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.

The speaker then admonishes the youth that if the latter remains without an heir to carry on those admired qualities, the young man will have to realize that his beauteous, natural treasures will remain stashed in that withering face. All pride will cease without an heir to continue its reign.

The speaker shows frustration that this young man can be so callous as to steal from the world the benefit of the beauty the young man has to offer. By failing to offer those qualities for the benefit of others, the insolent youth is selfish and self-absorbed, qualifies that the speaker hopes to instill in the youth as undesirable and dreaded. The speaker pities the young man who garners only a future of a wrinkled face with nothing to replace his youthful beauty.

Third Quatrain: Upbraiding with Concocted Comparisons

How much more praise deserv’d thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!

The speaker continues to upbraid the young man. He concocts a comparison of having a child now to not having one. If the young man follows the speaker’s advice and produces lovely offering now in his youthful, vibrant glory, he will be able to boast, "This fair child of mine / Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse." This beautiful offspring will testify to the world that his father was a handsome man. But if the young man continues his recalcitrant ways, he will have to confront the future with face that looks like a ploughed corn field with nothing but nothingness as he slides into death.

The Couplet: Retaining Youth by Producing Offspring

This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

In the couplet, the speaker finishes, emphasizing that the young lad will retain some portion of own youthful beauty by smartly producing offspring that has the ability to mimic his own beautiful characteristics and also will his name. After the young man inescapably drifts into old age, he will be comforted because there is warm blood coursing through the veins of his splendid offspring "This were to be new made when thou art old, / And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold." The speaker hopes to persuade the young man to reproduce in order to warm himself against the cold of old age.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Source

The Mystery of Shakespeare

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

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  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    4 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you for your response, Anne! Yes, the issue of longevity and life expectancy reveals much about a society's expectations. Today 80+ is the 40 of Elizabethan era. And especially when we consider our government leaders: while 65 is the retirement age for most of the citizenry, 65 is hardly a detriment to running for office... Ronald Reagan took the oath of office at 69 and 73. The current hopefuls: Hillary Clinton going on 68, Bernie Sanders 74, and the likely Joe Biden 72. Age is not a limitation as it was once thought to be.

    Of course, the speaker of the Shakespeare poem is not urging his charge to run for office--but to marry and procreate before he loses his youthful appearance. We still cannot turn that age-thing around: we just have to live in these old wrinkled bodies, despite all the cosmetic surgery, make-up, etc. And most of us will not begrudge leaving procreation to the young.

  • Anne Harrison profile image

    Anne Harrison 

    4 years ago from Australia

    it is interesting how perceptions change with time - to call someone withered and old at 40 today is almost unthinkable. The ease with which the sonnet reads belies the skill in its composition. Thank you for a thoughtful analysis

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