Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
In this sonnet, the poet faces up to one of the most fundamental facts of human existence: the transience of all things, even those of greatest power and beauty, and including those most loved. In seizing on this theme, Shakespeare echoed a passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.), a source he turned to often: “Time, the devourer, and the jealous years that pass, destroy all things and, nibbling them away, consume them gradually in a lingering death.”
The conflict between beauty and time, and the anguish of the lover who fears the touch of time on his beloved, is a major theme of the whole sonnet sequence. In sonnet 16, for example, the friend is reproved for not making sufficient effort to “Make war upon this bloody tyrant Time.” In sonnets 1 through 17, the poet proposes a solution. He enjoins his friend to marry and produce progeny, so that he will live again through his offspring. Sonnet 12 states that nothing can stand against time “save breed.” In Sonnet 19, however, this solution is implicitly abandoned because all of earth’s “sweet brood” will be devoured by time. Here “brood” recalls the “breed” of sonnet 12, but the significance of the term has altered completely.
The battle against time is made more intense in this sonnet by the absolute value that the poet attaches to the friend. He is the very archetype of beauty, “beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.”...
(The entire section is 369 words.)
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The main theme of Sonnet 19 is the destructiveness of Time. Time lays waste to all things: the powerful, the beautiful, the long-lived. Shakespeare develops this theme relentlessly through the first seven lines of the sonnet, the effect building up through repetition and variety. Particularly when read aloud, these seven lines leave no listener or reader in any doubt about the universal power of Time—the formidable last enemy. It is a theme that is universal in its relevance and needs no sophistication to grasp, since everyone at some point in their lives experiences the ravages of time and contemplates what time has taken from them.
Sometimes referred to as mutability (which means change), this theme was a common one in Renaissance literature. Everything is in flux, nothing is stable or permanent, but all is subject to change and decay. In this particular sonnet, Shakespeare appears to have been inspired by the ancient Roman poet Ovid since the phrase “Time the devourer destroys all things” occurs in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which was one of Shakespeare’s favorite sources.
Shakespeare explores the same theme of the destructiveness of time in many other sonnets, including numbers 15, 16, 59 and 60.
Although the beauty of the friend is mentioned in only one...
(The entire section is 673 words.)