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What does Shakespeare's sonnet 123 mean?Please put it simply... I am having trouble...

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abc-ninja | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 15, 2013 at 12:58 AM via web

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What does Shakespeare's sonnet 123 mean?

Please put it simply... I am having trouble understanding what it means and I need to understand it properly to be able to find a song that has the same theme or idea to it. Any suggestions are welcome. 

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 15, 2013 at 8:39 AM (Answer #1)

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In Sonnet 123, the speaker is talking to time. As the speaker personifies time, this is an example of apostrophe which is a figure of speech wherein a speaker addresses an imaginary person, an abstract idea, object, or event, often imbuing the idea/object with human qualities. 

In the sonnet, the speaker tells time that change is an illusion that derives from the limitations of human perspective. In other words, humans experience time but meaning, truth, and love are eternal and unchanging. For example, newer buildings are simply different versions of past buildings: 

Thy pyramids built up with newer might

To me are nothing novel, nothing strange,

They are but dressings of a former sight. 

Thus, time creates the illusion of change. Material things change but abstract things do not. A newer version is physically different than an older one (i.e. pyramid) but the essential abstract truth or meaning of both versions is the same and therefore has not changed. With these different versions, we could be talking about older and newer buildings, older and newer loves, or older and newer versions of self. 

Since we have brief lives ("dates"), the speaker says that rather than think of things as being old or new, past or present, he will think of the eternal, unchanging truth of things. 

The speaker claims that despite the fact that we experience time as change, he himself does not change. "No, time, thou shalt not boast that I do change!" That is to say that the speaker claims that his essential being does not change, or that his love for someone does not change because of time. With the final line, the speaker vows that he will be "true" in spite of time. Here, "true" indicates a sense of an eternal truth. If something is absolutely true, it is eternally true and therefore does not change. That people live and die, things made new and then decay, is a limited perspective of time as linear cause and effect. The speaker proposes to focus on eternal truths such as truth, love, and the spirit (self) which necessarily do not change. 

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