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Shakespeare Sonnet 60: "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore"

Updated on December 12, 2017
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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.

Shakespeare Sonnet Titles

The Shakespeare Sonnet sequence does not feature titles for each sonnet; therefore, each sonnet's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

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

Introduction: As Time Flies

This sonneteer has many times addressed the issue of the passage of time and how it leads to degeneration and decay of both mind and body.

In sonnet 60, the speaker, however, is once again insisting that his sonnets and other literary creations will essentially bestow immortality on his subjects.

Sonnet 60

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Reading of Sonnet 60

First Quatrain: “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore”

The first quatrain finds the speaker likening each individual’s time to the waves of the ocean, which “make towards the pebbled shore.” He asserts that, as the waves behave, so do “our minutes hasten to their end.”

Rather than simply moving in a leisurely pace, the waves and therefore time speed on rapidly, that is, they "hasten."

This observation demonstrates that this speaker is not a young man but rather he is a mature individual, who is seasoned in life and who has existed on this earth at a time period commensurate with the ability to know that human life on the physical plane quickly comes to an end.

This experienced speaker further has noticed that the “minutes” flow rapidly as do the waves of the ocean—“Each changing place with that which goes before, / In sequent toil all forwards do contend.”

Each minute is replaced by another minute the same way that each continuing wave is replaced by another wave as it moves to the ocean shore.

Second Quatrain: “Nativity, once in the main of light”

After being born in to this world, each young human being feels that life “[c]rawls to maturity”; virtually all youthful folks hanker to be more mature as they are growing “in the main of light.”

Those youthful people have the notion that they possess unlimited hordes of invincibility, that is, until they run smack dab into the “[c]rooked eclipses ‘gainst [their] glory.” They invariably come face to face with adversity in spite of their possession of an abundance of talents and abilities.

Then those young ones must battle against the newly acquired fact that they are actually growing old, and that their body's are transforming from their glowing youthfulness to an aging maturity that seeks more from their efforts than mere romantic foolishness.

The same element of “Time” that they were handed upon their birth then appears to be confusing to them as they become addled and befuddled. Life's precious gift then transforms into a heavy burden which must be dealt with in order to attain knowledge of the true purpose for living.

Third Quatrain: “Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth”

The speaker continues his mournful complaint as he asserts that “Time” converts youth by carving those unsightly lines in the forehead and around the eyes, those facial wrinkles which serve as a symbol for growing old.

“[N]ature’s truth” is gobbled up by the passage of time without regard to how “rare” the individual’s special gift or loveliness might have been.

Individuals are born with unique physical asserts and mental talents, but it matters not at all what those physical/mental assets/gifts/talents are, for “nothing stands but for [Time’s] scythe to mow.”

Dramatically, the speaker likens time's cutting down youth to a mower whacking down weeds with a scythe.

The speaker stresses this fact that life is fleeting as he dramatizes and portrays the process through repeated metaphoric employment.

The speaker understands that human beings experience this phenomenon uniquely but very intensely, and he exploits the issue dramatizing it without mercy.

The Couplet: “And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand”

The final lines serve to soften some of the speaker's earlier intensity. What was blood and guts now becomes a soft gentle exercise in breathing: “And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand / Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.”

This speaker's confidence in his ability to bestow immortality on anything he puts into his sonnets remains in place and, if possible, stronger than ever.

Time may mow down things, but in his poems they will live as freshly as the day they were born/created.

A Brief Overview of the 154-Sonnet Sequence

Marriage Sonnets 1-17

The speaker in the Shakespeare “Marriage Sonnets” pursues a single goal: to persuade a young man to marry and produce beautiful offspring. It is likely that the young man is Henry Wriothesley, the third earl of Southampton, who is being urged to marry Elizabeth de Vere, the oldest daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.

Many scholars and critics now argue persuasively that Edward de Vere is the writer of the works attributed to the nom de plume, "William Shakespeare."

For more information regarding Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, as the real writer of the Shakespearean canon, please visit The De Vere Society, an organization that is "dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford."

Muse Sonnets 18-126 (Erroneously "Fair Youth")

The speaker in this section of sonnets is exploring his talent, his dedication to his art, and his own soul power. In some sonnets, the speaker addresses his muse, in others he addresses himself, and in others he even addresses the poem itself.

Even though many scholars and critics have traditionally categorized this group of sonnets as the "Fair Youth Sonnets," there is no "fair youth," that is "young man," in these sonnets. There is no person at all in this sequence, with exception of the two problematic sonnets, 108 and 126.

Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154

The final sequence targets an adulterous romance with a woman of questionable character; the term “dark” likely modifies the woman’s character flaws, not her skin tone.

Two Problematic Sonnets: 108 and 126

Sonnet 108 and 126 present a problem in categorization. While most of the sonnets in the "Muse Sonnets" do focus on the poet's musings about his writing talent and do not focus on a human being, sonnets 108 and 126 are speaking to a young man, respectively calling him "sweet boy" and "lovely boy."

Sonnet 126 presents an additional problem: it is not technically a "sonnet," because it features six couplets, instead of the traditional three quatrains and a couplet.

The themes of sonnets 108 and 126 would better categorize with the "Marriage Sonnets" because they do address a "young man." It is likely that sonnets 108 and 126 are at least partially responsible for the erroneous labeling of the "Muse Sonnets" as the "Fair Youth Sonnets" along with the claim that those sonnets address a young man.

While most scholars and critics tend to categorize the sonnets into the three-themed schema, others combine the "Marriage Sonnets" and the "Fair Youth Sonnets" into one group of "Young Man Sonnets." This categorization strategy would be accurate if the "Muse Sonnets" actually addressed a young man, as only the "Marriage Sonnets" do.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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