Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The frequent occurrence of s sounds in the first two lines (on no fewer than seven occasions) suggests the sound of the incoming waves as they break on the shore. The final two s sounds, in “minutes hasten,” are placed closer together than the others, and this suggests the increasing speed and urgency of the passage of time.

The second quatrain is remarkable because it fuses three distinct sets of images: child, sun, and king. “Nativity” is at once the birth of a child and the rising of the morning sun. The child that “Crawls to maturity” is also the ascending sun, and “crowned” suggests at once a king and the sun at its zenith in the sky. This thought would have come easily to an Elizabethan mind, at home with the idea of an intricate set of correspondences between the microcosmic world of man and the macrocosmic heavens. The same image occurs in Sonnet 33 and Shakespeare’s play Richard II (c. 1595-1596).

At this point of maximum strength and power, the man-king-sun faces an assault on his position, as “Crookéd eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight.” “Crookéd” suggests the plotting of rivals to usurp his crown; “eclipses” is an astrological reference, suggesting an unfavorable aspect in the heavens that will bring about the inevitable downfall of the man-king, as well as ensuring the downward passage of the sun as it loses its glory over the western horizon. “Crawls” (line 6) and...

(The entire section is 494 words.)