Sonnet 12 Analysis

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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 silver'd 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 sheaves 

Borne 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 forsake

And die as fast as they see others grow; 

And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence

Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence. 


-- William Shakespeare

The Dissection of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12 portrays the impending limitations of time. The speaker asserts that beauty fades as everyone must fall to the wastes of time. The speaker’s only solution to this inevitable end is reproduction. Only through one’s descendants can such good traits be regenerated. The poet presents this message to the reader through diction, figurative language, and imagery.

In quatrain 1, the speaker begins with emphasizing how quick time drifts away when we are attempting to keep track of time. The opening quatrain is mixed with both positive and negative diction. The poet uses “brave” and “prime” to provide the reader positive characteristics that something inhibits before time takes such joys away. The words “hideous” and “sunk” represent the properties of something that has aged. In lines 1 and 2 the speaker dramatizes how much energy he has wasted when he has “count the clock that tells the time”. During this specific activity he explains how he loses many precious hours as “the brave day sunk in hideous night”. Having words “night” and “day” represent periods in his life. In lines 3 and 4 the speaker recalls holding...
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