When I do count the clock that tells the time,And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;When I behold the violet past prime,And sable curls all silvered o’er with white;When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,And summer’s green all girded up in sheavesBorne on the bier with white and bristly beard;Then of thy beauty do I question make,That thou among the wastes of time must go,Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsakeAnd die as fast as they see others grow,And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defenseSave breed to brave him when he takes thee hence.
Shakespeare Sonnet 12 Analysis
Sonnet 12 is one of Shakespeare more famous sonnets of procreation and death lamenting how fast time passes “when I do count the clock” with day turning into night “the brave day sunk in hideous night;” When he watches a violet flower withering with age “violet past prime” and a woman’s hair “sable curls” that turns from black to grey “silvered o’er with white.”
When he sees a tall dying tree “trees I see barren of leaves” which at one time was covered with leaves that provided shelter to animals “canopy the herd” and the harvest sowed in summer “summer’s green” tied up in bundles “girded up in sheaves” . He compares the bundles of harvest to the body of an old man being taken for burial “Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,”
He then questions the purpose of life and the beauty of young age “I question your beauty” saying that ultimately you will be a victim of time or age and eventually die, “among the wastes of time must go,” because even the beauty of a man’s life abandons itself “beauties do themselves forsake” and dies even as new life emerges “they see others grow”
There is nothing that can escape time and ageing “nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defence” except by having children “Save breed” to continue your name when you die “when he takes thee hence.”