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Summary

Shakespeare's Sonnet 60 certainly appears to be an indictment of time and what it can do to all living things. Although much of the poem betrays a negative tone, the last two lines (couplet) highlight the speaker's stubborn stance against the ravages of time.

In the first quatrain, the speaker talks about the advancement of time and how it mimics the waves of the sea. Just as the waves continually advance toward the "pebbl'd" shore, so does time. The speaker equates time with the waves of the ocean, relentless in continual advancement. Just as the waves don't stop, time doesn't either.

The speaker maintains that time progresses in a sequence, each measurement of time (whether it be seconds, minutes, or hours) changing place with the one before. So, the hours advance and loop around again to continue their journey.

In the second quatrain, the speaker introduces an interesting metaphor. He equates the experience of being born to a sort of Nativity, an almost religious experience. Everyone starts out in a "main," or sea, of "light" in our mothers' wombs. We "crawl to maturity" and wait for our "crowns," but there is no reward for aging. Instead, our glory is overshadowed by "crooked eclipses," just like the sun is hidden during an eclipse.

To the speaker, aging isn't a good experience. It's marred by unfortunate changes that put a damper on our happiness. It seems as if time is a cruel taskmaster. It allows us to be born and to advance in years. However, toward the very end of our days, Time "confounds," or destroys, our glory.

In the third quatrain, the speaker laments that time is relentless. It ravages the freshness and beauty of youth and does so unapologetically. It also "delves the parallels in beauty's brow." The word "delves" has an archaic meaning of to "dig." Meanwhile, the word "parallels" references lines. So, the speaker is saying that time "digs" out or carves lines into beauty's brow. As we age, lines appear on our faces. Our youthful beauty disappears.

Next, the speaker says that time is like a scythe; it just mows everything down in its path.

The sonnet ends with a couplet. The speaker doesn't leave us with a gloomy ending, however. He adamantly maintains that his "verse," or written works, will stand despite the advancing of time. Additionally, they will testify to the worth of the one he cares about. Time may be cruel, but it can never destroy the might of his pen.

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Sonnet 60, like all sonnets, is a fourteen-line poem of one stanza, rhymed according to a traditional scheme. The sonnet is one of 154 untitled sonnets by William Shakespeare, each of which adheres to the form of what is referred to as the English, or Shakespearean, sonnet.

The first quatrain consists of an extended simile, comparing the passage of human life to the onward movement of waves rushing to the seashore. Each wave pushes the one in front of it, and is in turn pushed by the one that follows it. Each following the other in close succession, the waves struggle forward.

The second quatrain introduces a new thought, more directly relating the passage of time to human life. The newborn baby, once it has seen the...

(The entire section is 819 words.)