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Shakespeare Sonnet 65: "Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea"

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.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford



One of the strategies employed by this poet is to pose a question, often one that at first seems rhetorical, and then subsequently pose a possible answer. In sonnet 64, the speaker posed the problem of time ravaging the things in life that people love.

Then in this sonnet 65, the speaker issues his answer to the question, his solution to the universal problem. For him, of course, any solution to any problem will not range far the focus of this sonnet sequence: his talent, his muse, and his "black ink" that he continues to stretch across the page in his brilliant sonnets.

Reading of Sonnet 65

First Quatrain: "Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea"

The speaker of Shakespeare Sonnet 65 begins by listing some of the strong physical attributes of the cosmos, "brass, [ ] stone, [ ] earth, [the] boundless sea," but again laments, "But sad mortality o’ersways their power." Even these objects that seem so sturdy and enduring are all ravaged by the power of "mortality."

The speaker then inquires, "How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, / Whose action is no stronger than a flower?"

How can beauty overcome the devastation brought on by old age and Time, when beauty offers no opposition?

Beauty's motion is less than that of a flower, which also portrays beauty but no power of struggle.

Second Quatrain: "O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out"

The speaker continues his query, wondering "how shall summer’s honey breath hold out / Against the wrackful siege of battering days?"

Summer symbolizes all the bright and sunny things of the earth that give pleasure, but the fact is that the season lasts only a few short months.

Even rocks that seem so strong and "impregnable," in actuality, "are not so stout." Not even "gates of steel" are strong enough to stand up to ruinous Time, who causes all matter to perish.

Third Quatrain: "O fearful meditation! where, alack"

The speaker exclaims, inquiring of his own musing, and emphatically demanding to know where Time hides his "best jewel." Where does Time keep the things that he truly wants to spare?

The speaker furthermore wonders, "what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?" The speaker’s questions are not merely rhetorical, because those questions imply strongly that a solution to the problem does exist.

The speaker then throws out a further inquiry: "who his spoil of beauty can forbid?"

By posing these questions, this speaker is suggesting that he understands how to complete these acts that will hold back Time’s fast fleeing foot and mitigate Time’s devastation of beauty.

The Couplet: "O! none, unless this miracle have might"

The speaker then seems to admit that nothing can keep Time from destroying love and beauty: he confesses, "O! none," but then immediately, he pulls back from this assertion by saying, "unless this miracle have might" (my emphasis added).

And what "miracle" would that be? The power of his sonnets, of course: in his "black ink," he will continue to dramatize and to immortalize his love, and that love will continue to "shine bright," unfettered by Time's raging devastation.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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