Shakespeare Sonnet 19

Updated on January 21, 2019
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

| Source

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 19

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.

Sonnet 19

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-liv’d phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O! carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

Reading of Shakespeare Sonnet 19

Commentary

In Sonnet 19, the speaker personifies and challenges Time to devastate his art as he does all living creatures as they age; then he declares that Time cannot do so.

First Quatrain: Battling with Time

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-liv’d phoenix in her blood;

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: Forbidding Crime

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

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: A Time of Carving

O! carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.

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 Couple: Meeting the Challenge

Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

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.

The real ''Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford | Source

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."

"Shakespeare" revealed as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

    Submit a Comment
    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Yes, the writer of the Shakespearean works was indeed a mature craftsman. We can always depend on those works to be top quality, fun, and insightful.

      Thanks for the comment, Coffeequeeen!

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      I enjoyed reading your analysis of this sonnet. I love reading Shakespeare. He was a genius.

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