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Shakespeare Sonnet 60

Updated on June 27, 2019
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

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.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 60

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

Commentary

Shakespeare Sonnet 60 is once again examining the ravages of time and his refusal to accept those ravages as final by creating the speaker's poetry. He is addressing an unknown listener as he muses on this issue.

First Quatrain: Time Like Ocean Waves

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.

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: Desire for Maturity

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.

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: A Mournful Complaint

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:

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: Softer and Gentler

And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

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.

Source

A Brief Overview: The 154-Sonnet Sequence

Scholars and critics of Elizabethan literature have determined that the sequence of 154 Shakespeare sonnets may be classified into three thematic categories: (1) Marriage Sonnets 1-17; (2) Muse Sonnets 18-126, traditionally identified as the "Fair Youth"; and (3) Dark Lady Sonnets 127-154.

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 example, Walt Whitman, one of America's greatest poets has opined:

Conceiv'd out of the fullest heat and pulse of European feudalism — personifying in unparalleled ways the medieval aristocracy, its towering spirit of ruthless and gigantic caste, with its own peculiar air and arrogance (no mere imitation) — only one of the "wolfish earls" so plenteous in the plays themselves, or some born descendant and knower, might seem to be the true author of those amazing works — works in some respects greater than anything else in recorded literature.

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 (Traditionally classified as "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.

Three Problematic Sonnets: 108, 126, 99

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.

Sonnet 99 might be considered somewhat problematic: it features 15 lines instead of the traditional 14 sonnet lines. It accomplishes this task by converting the opening quatrain into a cinquain, with an altered rime scheme from ABAB to ABABA. The rest of the sonnet follows the regular rime, rhythm, and function of the traditional sonnet.

The Two Final Sonnets

Sonnets 153 and 154 are also somewhat problematic. They are classified with the Dark Lady Sonnets, but they function quite differently from the bulk of those poems.

Sonnet 154 is a paraphrase of Sonnet 153; thus, they carry the same message. The two final sonnets dramatize the same theme, a complaint of unrequited love, while outfitting the complaint with the dress of mythological allusion. The speaker employs the services of the Roman god Cupid and the goddess Diana. The speaker thus achieves a distance from his feelings, which he, no doubt, hopes will finally liberate him from the clutches of his lust/love and bring him equanimity of mind and heart.

In the bulk of the "dark lady" sonnets, the speaker has a been addressing the woman directly, or making it clear that what he is saying is intended for her ears. In the final two sonnets, the speaker is not directly addressing the mistress. He does mention her, but he is speaking now about her instead of directly to her. He is now making it quite clear that he is withdrawing from the drama with her.

Readers may sense that he has grown battle-weary from his struggle for the woman’s respect and affection, and now he has finally decided to make a philosophical drama that heralds the end of that disastrous relationship, announcing essentially, "I’m through."

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford: The Real "Shakespeare"

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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