illustration of two roses slighly intertwined with one another

Shakespeare's Sonnets

by William Shakespeare
Start Free Trial

Explain Shakespeare's Sonnet 15.

Shakespeare uses "Sonnet 15" to immortalize his lover.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In very basic terms, Shakespeare uses "Sonnet 15" to immortalize his lover.

Everything we see in the world around us will eventually decay and one day die. What perfection there is in the world cannot last:

When I consider everything that grows Holds in perfection but a little moment

As...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In very basic terms, Shakespeare uses "Sonnet 15" to immortalize his lover.

Everything we see in the world around us will eventually decay and one day die. What perfection there is in the world cannot last:

When I consider everything that grows Holds in perfection but a little moment

As the speaker looks at his beloved, he knows that she too will one day be subject to the ravages of time and decay, no matter how beautiful she may look now, in her golden youth. Indeed, time and decay are presented as conspiring how best to turn the speaker's young lover to old age:

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay Sets you most rich in youth before my sight, Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay To change your day of youth to sullied night;

There's absolutely nothing that the speaker can do about the natural aging process; his lover, like everyone else, will one day grow old and die. But there is something else he can do. As a great and gifted poet he can enshrine his lover's youthful beauty for all eternity in the words that he writes. And "Sonnet 15," like all of Shakespeare's great works, live on long after he and his lover have departed from this mortal world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Sonnet 15, the speaker is considering the transitory, temporary nature of life. He recognizes that every thing that lives ("grows") reaches a prime in his/her/its life and that peak moment lasts only a brief time. The world is compared to a stage where the stars (astrologically) influence or direct the actions of the players (humans). Plants, like men, "increase" (grow) but when they reach their height, they begin to decrease and wear out. The speaker imagines the height of his companion's youth ("you" the addressee in the sonnet) in spite of the limited (inconstant) time on earth. Moving toward the end of a life, time and decay debate on how to change one's life from youth to old age and then to death: 

Then the conceit of this inconstant stay

Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,

Where wasteful time debateth with decay

To change your day of youth to sullied night; (9-12) 

In the end, the speaker says that we "all" are at war with time itself. For the love of the sonnet's addressee ("you"), the speaker says that as time takes "your" youth, he will "engraft you anew." This is a common theme in some of Shakespeare's sonnets: that although life is fleeting, he can immortalize those he loves in the sonnet itself (engraft meaning to write). 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team