Those Hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel:
For never-resting Time leads Summer on
To hideous Winter and confounds him there;
Sap check'd with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'ersnow'd and bareness every where:
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 distill'd though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled.
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure, ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thyself to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one.
Ten times thyself were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee.
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.
Here we have some themes that one will have already become familiar with, if one were reading through the sonnets in order. Once again, we are reminded that youth, vitality and beauty, as symbolized by summer and “lusty leaves,” will not last. Instead, it will give way to age and decline, as symbolized by winter and frost.
Once again, we are eavesdropping on Shakespeare, or at least the voice of the poem, lecturing the Fair Youth that the remedy of such decline and eventual death as “make worms thine heir” is to procreate.
What I find distinctive about this couple of sonnets is that the imagery, as well as the messages conveyed, are particularly strong and a little melodramatic.
Some of this imagery is incredibly dark and stark.
Summer gives way to “hideous Winter.” “Bareness” is “every where,” and “winter’s ragged hand” can “deface”. The youth is urged to avoid “death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.” These are quite a set of extremely ominous and dreary descriptors for the inevitable decline that we humans experience.
The imagery is not all negative, however. In colorful terms, Shakespeare urges the youth to engage in the masculine role of procreation, “Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place With beauty’s treasure.”
Perhaps the best example of the heavy handedness of the message occurs when the subject of the sonnet is actually urged to have ten children, as doing so will make the subject “ten times happier.”
All of the above makes this set of sonnets particularly engaging and entertaining to read. Though one might make the argument that Shakespeare goes a little over the top here, one needs to keep in mind that there are 126 “Fair Youth Sonnets.” In my commentary on Sonnet 4, which is here, I concluded that the best descriptor for that verse was “clever,” as opposed to the grandness of some of the other sonnets. Here, we have more variation. It seems that Shakespeare was using this large body of short poems to express himself in diverse ways, from the very clever to the soaring sublime, to what I would argue here is slightly flamboyant. Ultimately, the tone of these two sonnets makes them a lot of fun to read.
My commentary on additional Sonnets: