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Shakespeare Sonnet 11: "As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st"

Updated on May 5, 2018
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"
The real "Shakespeare" | Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 11

In marriage sonnet 11, the speaker continues to evoke the young man’s pleasing qualities, claiming that the lad has an obligation to marry and pass them on to offspring. The older man seems to believe strong that the older generation lives through the younger one.

The speaker, with each new drama, demonstrates his creative ability to invent arguments and present them in new and entertaining ways. As he grows more desperate that the young man produce offspring, he grows more inventive, employing colorful and varied metaphors and exciting, bracing images.

Sonnet 11

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st,
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow'st,
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest,
Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.
Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow'd, she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:
She carv'd thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 11

Commentary

The speaker is growing more and more urgent in his pleadings with the young man to marry and produce pleasing offspring.

First Quatrain: The Imploring Continues

As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow'st,
In one of thine, from that which thou departest;
And that fresh blood which youngly thou bestow'st,
Thou mayst call thine when thou from youth convertest,

The speaker in sonnet 11 titled "As fast as thou shalt wane, so fast thou grow’st" continues to implore the young man to marry and produce offspring. This time is chides the lad reminding him that he will grow old and wither. But if the lad will just listen to the older, mature fellow, he can mitigate the difficulty: his good looks and amiable personality will live on in his heir, or so the speaker believes.

The speaker has, at least, convinced himself that people will continue living in their offspring. Or could this speaker only marginally believe such tripe and still use the notion to gain what he seeks? That the young man marry his daughter. The speaker tries to persuade the young man to believe that his own blood will then be freshened in his offspring, even as the blood in his body becomes broken and stale.

Second Quatrain: To Achieve Wisdom

Herein lives wisdom, beauty, and increase;
Without this folly, age, and cold decay:
If all were minded so, the times should cease
And threescore year would make the world away.

The speaker urges the young man to believe he will be wise in his behavior only if he marries and has children. Only by reproducing will be offer beautiful, wonderful acts to the world. He will be productive instead of destructive, giving to the world, instead merely taking from it.

The speaker fears that by aging without reproducing, the young man will eventually have to give in to "cold decay." But if he has produced offspring, he will avoid the folly of growing old alone and failing the world by leaving it without his progeny.

The speaker then pours out the old chestnut that goes, what if everyone behaved as callously as you, not marrying and reproducing? Well, according to the speaker, the world would come to an end in only two or three generations. A dour thought for sure, something for the young to cogitate upon.

Third Quatrain: Brutish Prigs and Their Ilk

Let those whom nature hath not made for store,
Harsh, featureless, and rude, barrenly perish:
Look, whom she best endow'd, she gave thee more;
Which bounteous gift thou shouldst in bounty cherish:

The speaker then offers the notion that only brutish prigs would allow the world the end this way. If the beautiful, pleasing people fail to multiply, the multiplying will be done by those whose qualities are "harsh" and "featureless" and "rude."

The folks who possess unpleasing qualities should not reproduce. The speaker assumes that young man will agree with such a policy. But the speaker also wants to instill in his protege that the latter does possess pleasing qualities in abundance.

The speaker hopes to make he young man aware that he should cherish his beauty and be so proud of it that he would choose to produce children who would naturally possess those same qualities.

Couplet: Qualities to be Copied

She carv'd thee for her seal, and meant thereby,
Thou shouldst print more, not let that copy die.

In the couplet, the speaker utilizes a metaphor of a printing press. Nature has given the young man qualities that she would like to have copied. He is the original print copy, and if he will only marry and produces offspring, he will be like a printing press, shooting out copies of the beautiful text of himself. The speaker says, "print more" so the original does not die. The speaker seems to be in a contest with himself, trying to find as many "copy" and "reproduce" metaphors as possible.

Of course, the speaker's real mission in these marriage poems is to instill in the young man the speaker's notion that the young man should marry: not just for himself, but for reproducing offspring to continue in the world a set of pleasing qualities of beauty and fine physical features.

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."

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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