Shakespeare's Sonnets Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is the explanation of the sonnet line: "Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks / Within his bending sickle's compass come; / Love...

What is the explanation of the sonnet line:

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom

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Olen Bruce eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 is a testament to the abiding power of love. These lines mean that time cannot change love. Father Time, the personification of time, is often pictured with a scythe, or a sickle, which is a bent instrument used to harvest grain. The sickle destroys the rosy lips and cheeks of the young as if it were cutting down grain, but it cannot change love. In other words, people's outer appearances change, and they look older as time goes on, but love is not affected by these outer changes.

Instead, love lasts to the end of time, and it does not change within weeks or days. Love lasts until the end of doom, which refers to the apocalypse, or the very end of the universe. These lines express the idea that, although one's looks might change over time, love is not changeable.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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These lines in Shakespeare's Sonnet 116 mean that a beloved person's body will change over time. "Rosy lips and cheeks," in other words, the beauties of youth, will fade. Time, which is personified, or depicted as person, takes a person's beauty away. Shakespeare pictures this "taking" as Time harvesting an individual's beauty just as a person harvests a ripe grain crop with a sickle. Since death is traditionally depicted as a grim reaper carrying a sickle, Shakespeare is identifying Time with death.

However, Shakespeare argues, love is not fooled by what Time takes away. Love is stronger than time. A person's outward appearance might alter over time, but love doesn't care. Time doesn't matter to love, which will endure even past death, to the point of doomsday, the last day of the world's existence.

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gbeatty eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ah, isn't this poem great? This sequence of lines—this quatrain—should be read in the context of the entire poem. The first four lines say, there can be no barrier to true love. The next four say, true love doesn't change, and is so firm that others can navigate by it. The next four (the four asked about) say that true love will not change with time, even if the red lips and cheeks of the young do change. True love lasts, these lines say, until death.

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