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Shakespeare Sonnet 77: "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear"

Updated on October 3, 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.

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. 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 and Text of Sonnet 77, "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear"

In sonnet 77, the speaker engages the useful tools of a mirror and the empty pages of a book. He chooses these two objects in order to motivate himself to keep plugging away at his sonnet creation.

The speaker wishes to have a full record of his thoughts and feelings when he is old. He desires these mementos to exist as reminders of his early perceptions of love and truth.

Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear

THY glass will show thee how thy beauties wear
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
These vacant leaves thy mind’s imprint will bear,
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste.
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial’s shady stealth mayst know
Time’s thievish progress to eternity.
Look! what thy memory cannot contain,
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, deliver’d from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.

Reading of Sonnet 77

Commentary

First Quatrain: "Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear"

The speaker admonishes his poet’s persona that two instruments will tell him things about his progress: his mirror will remind him that he is aging, and his clock will remind him when he wastes time.

The empty pages of his book will also remind him that he must continue to create and be productive in order to fill those blank pages with "learning."

The creative speaker must continue to produce his sonnets so that he will be able to enjoy his creations into old age.

Second Quatrain: "The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show"

Again, the speaker refers to the mirror and the clock: the mirror will "truly show" "the wrinkles" that will develop as the speaker ages, while the clock will keep ticking off the minutes as his life speeds by.

But the mirror can be used as a motivational tool if the speaker/poet will keep in mind the image of "mouthed graves."

The open grave waits for the speaker who has ceased his work and can no longer create his valuable poems.

The speaker creates such an awful image in order to offer himself motivation to spur his inner writer to greater effort that he stops wasting his precious moments.

Third Quatrain: "Look! what thy memory cannot contain"

The speaker then shouts a command, "Look!" He commands his poetself to understand that he will not be able to remember all of the important and fascinating details of this life unless he fashions them into useful artifacts, that is, the sonnets, and "[c]ommits [them] to these waste blanks."

The speaker insists that he must create his works that are like his children "deliver’d from [his] brain."

As the speaker/creator saves his "children" and fashions them into poems he will "take a new acquaintance," and he will be reminded of his experiences in his old age.

The Couplet: "These offices, so oft as thou wilt look"

In the couplet, "These offices, so oft as thou wilt look, / Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book," the speaker concludes his premise that if the speaker makes haste and stays productive, he will be glad and "profit" much from "[his] book."

The speaker predicts that his enrichment will come from two sources: the spiritual, which is the most important, and the material. He will also be able to gain monetarily from the sale of his book.

The speaker will "enrich" his memory, his heart and soul, as well as his pocketbook. The motivation must satisfy the speaker on all levels, if it is to work.

The speaker has noted many times in many sonnets that his is interested in capturing only beauty and truth.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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