1 Since brass, nor stone, nor boundless sea,
2 But sad mortality o'er-sways their power,
3 How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
4 Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
5 O how shall summer's honey breath hold out,
6 Against the wreckful siege of batt'ring days
7 When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
8 Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
9 O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
10 Shall time's best jewel from time's chest lie hid?
11 Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back,
12 Or who his spoil o'er beauty can forbid?
13 O none, unless this miracle have might:
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
Feb. 21st, 2001
Sonnets are rhymed poems consisting of fourteen lines, the first eight making up the octet and the last six lines being the sestet. The basic structure of the sonnet arose in medieval Italy, its most prominent exponent being the Early Renaissance poet, Petrarch. The appearance of the English Sonnet, however, occurred when Shakespeare was an adolescent, around 1580 (Moore and Charmaine 1). Although it is named after him, Shakespeare did not originate the English sonnet form. The English sonnet differs slightly from the Italian, or Petrarchian, Sonnet and the Spenserian Sonnet in that it ends with a rhymed couplet and follows the rhyme scheme (abab cdcd efef gg). Thus, the octet/sestet structure can be alternatively divided into three quatrains with alternating rhymes and ending in a rhymed couplet. William Shakespeare's Sonnet 65 is part of a sequence of one hundred and fifty-four sonnets allegedly written sometime between 1592 and May of 1609 (Duncan 13; Moore and Charmine 1). In sonnets 1 through 126, the speaker addresses a young man often referred to as the Youth, and in sonnets 127 through 154, a woman, or Dark Lady, is addressed Sonnet 65 is also part of a unit with Sonnet 64 (Best 1), the two coming together to form their own "fearful meditation" (9) on time and ruin reaping youth and beauty from the world and leaving only cold death (Cooney 3). Shakespeare opens the poem with the speaker listing paradigms of the long-lasting substances "brass" and "stone" (1). "Earth" and "boundless sea" (1) are also long lasting, but are superior in that they are nearly limitless in extent. All of these elements, by their nature, should be capable of holding out against "sad mortality" (2), but none of them are free of its operations (Duncan, 240) as it "o'er-sways their power" (2).
The speaker then asks how "shall beauty hold a plea" (3) against "this rage" (3); the yet unnamed force of time. "Rage" is used in two previous sonnets in similar context to exemplify the blind fury of time's destructiveness and to help suggest the madness of an unreasoning tyrant (Commentary 2). "And barren rage of death's eternal cold" is found in Sonnet 13, line 12, and "And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;" is found in Sonnet 64, line 4.
"Hold a plea" (3) has a legal sound to it, and helps give the reader the image of a subject defending itself before an enraged and absolute judge, who is clearly not about to take notice of the plea. It is interesting to not that in line 3 "rage" contains the problem that has caused the emotions: "age" (Davies 1). In this portion of the sonnet, "beauty" (3) is still a very general image, but the image gets clearer in line four where "beauty" is as weak and helpless as "a flower" (4) (Cooney 1). At this point of the sonnet, we are still more conscious of the lamenting tone of the speaker than of the items he is listing and of the question he poses. The legal terminology continues in line four with the word "action." Here, the legal action of beauty to prevent destruction is no more effective than a flower trying to stop the march of time (Commentary 3). The metaphor...
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