The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 19 cover image

William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 19 is a traditional English sonnet (traditional because Shakespeare made it so), consisting of a single stanza of fourteen lines, rhymed according to a standard format. Like the other 153 sonnets by Shakespeare, Sonnet 19 has no title.

In the first quatrain, the poet addresses time as a devourer, handing out a series of defiant invitations to time to perform its most destructive acts. First, time is instructed to “blunt” the “lion’s paws,” which gives the reader an image of enormous strength reduced to impotence. In line 2, the poet moves from the particular to the general, invoking time as a bully who forces the earth, seen as the universal mother, to consume all her beloved offspring. Line 3 echoes line 1. It gives another image of the strongest of nature’s creatures, this time the tiger, reduced to weakness. Time, seen as a fierce aggressor, will pluck out its teeth. No gentle decline into age here. In line 4, the poet moves to the mythological realm. He tells time to wreak its havoc by burning the “long-lived phoenix.” The phoenix was a mythical bird that supposedly lived for five hundred years (or a thousand years, according to some versions) before being consumed in fire. The phoenix was also said to rise from its own ashes, but that is not a meaning that the poet chooses to develop here. The final phrase in the line, “in her blood,” is a hunting term that refers to an animal in the full vigor of...

(The entire section is 525 words.)


(Shakespeare for Students)

Lines 1-2
The entire sonnet is in the form of an apostrophe to Time, which is capitalized to establish it as an...

(The entire section is 1047 words.)