What is an analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 63?
Sonnet 63 is about a favorite theme for sonneteers, that of poetry immortalizing beauty and love. It begins with the poet saying that in preparation for the time when "my love shall be" as old as he himself is at the time of writing, he shall immortalize him "in these black lines" and keep "my lover's life" still "green," or youthful, with "sweet love's beauty."
Sonnet 63 is in iambic pentameter with two voltas, or change in topic within the subject of the sonnet. The first 12 lines are 3 quatrains with a rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef. The last two lines are an ending rhyming couplet with the rhyme scheme gg. This is what came to be the standard English, or Shakespearean, sonnet form. It is not in the original Petrarchan sonnet form. The voltas (i.e., thought turns) are at lines 5 and 9. At 5, he turns from Time to the journey that will cause his love's kingly "beauties" to vanish "out of sight" and steal the youthful "treasure of his spring."
At 9, he turns to protesting "Against confounding age's cruel knife," asserting his love shall be "never cut from memory." The couplet explains that "His beauty shall in these black lines be seen, / ... / and he in them still green."
That [Age] shall never cut from memory
My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.
"Sonnet 63" is part of the "Fair Youth" sequence, the first 126 of Shakespeare's sonnets, and, like several others in the sequence, is concerned with the theme of youth preserved in ink when it has died in reality. The poem begins with the word "Against": the poet is actually establishing from the start that his poem is intended as a sort of charm or proof "against" the ravages of time he then goes on to list.
The poem guards against the possibility of his love really becoming "as I am now," when his "youthful morn / Hath travelled on to age's sleepy night." At the moment, the beloved youth is "king" of many beauties, "the treasure of his spring," which will inevitably fall into decline. The poet appreciates that physical beauty cannot survive the cuts of "age's cruel knife."
What the poet expresses in this sonnet, however, is that while age can cut into physical beauty, it cannot "cut from memory / My sweet love's beauty." Memory is proof against physical decline, and through the commission of that beauty to writing, the poet ensures it remains in the memories even of those who never saw it in reality. His beauty "shall in these black lines be seen / And they shall live, and he in them still green"—that is, green as he was in the "spring" of his life, even when it is long past.