Those hours that with gentle work did frameThe lovely gaze where every eye doth dwellWill play the tyrants to the very sameAnd that unfair which fairly doth excel.For never-resting time leads summer onTo hideous winter and confounds him there,Sap checked with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness everywhere.Then were not summer’s distillation left,A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,Nor it nor no remembrance what it was.But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
In the second quatrain, he compares the ageing process like the change of seasons from vibrant summer to dull winter. “Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness everywhere: This means that old age is synonymous with winter at a time of life that seems barren, lifeless and dull.
In the third quatrain, Shakespeare compares old age to a fragile glass prison “A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass”. He says “Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was” that whatever beauty a man had in youth will all be forgotten.
In the last couplet he suggests that in spite of old age, “but flowers distilled”, a man’s beautiful personality still remains within him. Though it may not be externally visible, “Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet”. Man’s goodness and beauty is a permanent virtue which will never change.