Please elaborate on the theme of the ravages of time in William Shakespeare's Sonnets.

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malibrarian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's sonnets reflect an idea that life was fragile and uncertain.  From disease to poverty to warfare and crime, people simply did not live to be very old.  Many of the sonnets that Shakespeare wrote were probably commissioned to convince a young man to marry a woman he did not want to marry.  Shakespeare uses the young man's mortality (and vanity) as a way of convincing him to follow orders and get married:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee. (Sonnet 1)

Shakespeare tries to tell the young man that one way for a person to achieve immortality is through procreation, and goes on to tell him that it would be a crime to deprive the world of a perfect little copy of himself in the form of a child.

Other sonnets that clearly depict this theme of the ravages of time are Sonnets 18 and 19 (see "exemplary sonnets" link below).  Good luck!