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Shakespeare Sonnet 6: "Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface"

Updated on September 25, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

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

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the real Shakespeare


Shakespeare Sonnet Titles in My Article Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. The rule according to the MLA style for citing an untitled poem's first line as the title is to place the first line in quotation marks and capitalize according to the way the line appears in the poem. Along with the number of the sonnet, this is the format I follow for titling my articles featuring the Shakespeare sonnet

Shakespeare Sonnet 6

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distill’d:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-kill’d.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee;
Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-will’d, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.

Reading of Sonnet 6 by Roy Mcready


Sonnet 6 is one of the "Marriage Sonnets," in which the speaker attempts to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring.

As this sonnet sequence progresses, a number of fascinating metaphors and images emerge from the speaker's literary tool kit.

The speaker's passion becomes almost a frenzy as he begs, cajoles, threatens, and shames this young lad, trying to persuade the young man that he simply must marry and produce offspring that will perpetuate the lad's fine qualities.

First Quatrain: "Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface"

The speaker begins by employing an adverbial conjunction "then" which signals that sonnet 6 is tied to Sonnet 5. He admonishes the young man that the latter should not let creeping old age overtake his youth: the lad must produce an heir to stay that putrid stage of life.

Thus, the speaker metaphorically likens the season of winter as old age, summer as youth, and the process of distillation becomes the offspring.

The speaker demands of the youth that he, “Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place / With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-kill’d.” The speaker is admonishing the young man to "distill" his beauty by pouring that quality into a glass bottle, as a perfume or a liquor would be done.

And again, the speaker compends his signature note, “before it’s too late,” to nudge his young charge in the direction toward which the speaker continues to direct the young man.

Second Quatrain: "That use is not forbidden usury"

The speaker then switches to a money metaphor. He asserts that by completing his assignment to procreate, the speaker also employs a proper station for this beauty. But sending his own lovely features down to his offspring, the young lad is making happy the enitre universe.

The young man is, thereby, likened to those who repay debts after they have borrowed; when the loan is satisfied everyone is satisfied.

The speaker at the same time is implying that if the lad does not produce offspring to perpetuate his beauteous qualities, he will be like one who fails to satisfy his debts; thereby, resulting in unhappiness and humiliation for all involved.

Then the speaker inserts a new notion that he has not, heretofore, offered: he now proposes the idea that if the young man sires ten offspring, then ten times the happiness will result.

The speaker attempts to demonstrate the marvelous boon that ten heirs would be by numerically stating, “ten times happier, be it ten for one.”

Third Quatrain: "Ten times thyself were happier than thou art"

The speaker admires his new solution so much that he repeats the number, “Ten times thyself were happier than thou art, / If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee.”

The speaker employs the entire force of his argument by suggesting that ten offspring would offer ten times more happiness.

The speaker then queries: “Then what could death do, if thou shouldst depart, / Leaving thee living in posterity?”

The speaker desires that the young man take it upon himself to think hard on his own desire for deathlessness and how that status would be accomplished by producing lovely offspring to carry on after the lad has left his body.

The speaker's question is, of course, rhetorical, and it implies that the lad could win the battle of death by leaving an heir who would resemble the young man. Growing old, withering, and leaving this world would be outsmarted, if only the lad would marry and procreate, according to the speaker.

The Couplet: "Be not self-will’d, for thou art much too fair"

Finally, the speaker demands that the young man not remain “self-will’d,” that is, thinking only of his own pleasure and enjoyment, wishing that the time frame of the present could ever be, without sufficient cogitation on the future. The speaker desires to impart to the younger man the notion that the lad's pleasing qualities are too valuable to permit “worms” to become “thine heir.”

The speaker employs the unpleasantness of nature as well as nature's loveliness and beauty— whichever seems to further his cause—in convincing the young lad that reproducing heirs remains one of his most crucial duties in life.

The speaker continues to attempt to persuade the young man to marry and procreate by portraying old age and death as utterly disagreeable, especially wherein the aging one has not taken the steps against self-destruction by marrying and procreating many offspring that will continue the qualities of the father.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes


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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

      Linda Sue Grimes 2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Yes, the Shakespeare sonnets are quite inspirational on many levels.

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 2 years ago from United States

      We who write poetry may each learn by examining Shakespeare's metaphors. He was quite the inspirer in his day. whonu