Shakespeare Sonnet 19: “Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws”
Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
Sonnets 1-17, called the “Marriage Sonnets,” plead with a young man to marry and produce offspring; sonnets 18-126 address the poet’s talent and art, often directly addressing the very poem he is writing, and sonnets 127-154 dramatize a relationship with a dark lady.
In Sonnet 19, the speaker is again broaching the subject of his writing talent, as he did in Sonnet 18, in which he addressed the poem itself. Sonnet 19 differs in that the speaker is addressing “Time.”
In this sonnet, the speaker personifies "Time" and challenges it to destroy his artistic endeavors as the passage of time does to all living creatures as they age.
The speaker, however, declares that Time cannot devastate the speaker's art.
Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 19
First Quatrain – “Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws”
In the first quatrain, the speaker begins his direct engagement with Time in a battle of wills. He chides Time, saying go ahead and makes the lion’s paws dull and useless with age, let the tiger’s sharp teeth fall out, and let the ever-reviving phoenix die.
The images of these strong, colorful animals succumbing to the ravages of time build a rich background against which the speaker will state his later claims.
This clever speaker even alludes to the mythical phoenix, a bird that can revive itself by setting itself on fire, but even the phoenix had a life-span of about five hundred years.
Second Quatrain – “Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets”
In the second quatrain, the speaker challenges Time to create joyous seasons and sad seasons as he hurries by. The speaker even encourages Time to go ahead and do whatever he wants to whole world.
The speaker avers that everything lovely will vanish with the passage of the seasons and years. But the speaker forbids Time to touch one particular entity, and he says it with vehemence: “But I forbid thee one most heinous crime.”
Third Quatrain – “O! carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow”
In the third quatrain, the speaker reveals the “heinous crime” which he forbids Time to commit: he commands Time not furrow the brow of his love, and he reiterates that command: “O! carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow / Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen.”
Carving time and drawing lines upon the forehead results in the wrinkles that all old people have. But for his love, the speaker demands that time let his love go “untainted” so that the generations who follow will also be able to appreciate his love’s beauty.
The Couplet – "Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong"
In the couplet, the speaker appears to do an about-face. He says, on the other hand, go ahead “old Time,” do your best to destroy this love, this talent of mine.
And even though you try your hardest, “My love shall in my verse ever live young.” His love, which is his art, his talent at producing beauty in poems, is untouchable by time. His talent will forever remain young and full of life.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes