What is Shakespeare's Sonnet 60 about? How would you describe its structure, the action of waves in lines 1-4, the reference to "Nativity" in line 5, and the subject of lines 1-4? How does the image of "crooked eclipse" relate to other images in the poem and what does "transfix the flourish" mean in context?

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(All line citations are taken from the text available at the Shakespeare Online reference provided.)

Question 1: Which of the following best describes the whole structure of the poem as a whole?

A) Three different conceits about the power of an idea, followed by a generalization about its ultimate fragility

B) A dispassionate analysis of an event, devoid of personal reference until the final image

C) Four contrasting views of an emotion, with no final resolution

Answer: A. Shakespeare's Sonnet 60 presents three images representing the inescapable passage of time and then challenges time's power in the final two lines. The first stanza's conceit is the incoming tide, each minute like a wave inexorably making its way up the shore. The second uses the conceit of the sun, in which birth is a dawn and youth a rise to the full brightness of maturity, which then descends into the encroaching darkness of advancing age. The third uses the familiar image of the reaper to represent time, age, and death, with youth depicted as a flourishing plant destined to be cut down. "Nothing stands but for his scythe to mow" (12). 

However, Shakespeare complicates his melancholy reflection in the final lines, "And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand, praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand" (13-14). This continues the "reaper" conceit of the final stanza but states Shakespeare's hope that, through poetry, the process of time might be forestalled and his beloved remembered through his verse. 

Question 2: The action of waves in lines 1-4 is best described as

a) an inexorable procession

b) a remorseless competition

c) a reassuring monotony

Answer: A. As noted above, the theme of Sonnet 60 is the progression of time. The waves are the core conceit of stanza 1, representing the minutes of life counting down inescapably to death.

Question 3: In line 5, "Nativity" refers primarily to

a) the youth of the speaker

b) earliest stage of life

c) birth of Jesus

Answer: B. The second stanza and the poem in general are about the progress of human life as a whole.

Question 4: The subject of lines 1-4 is best described as the                             

a) minutes of our lives elapsing

b) necessity of toil

c) power of natural force

Answer: A. This is explicit in the text. "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end" (1-2). Lines 3 and 4 simply emphasize the point. They say that, just like the incoming tide, each minute follows the one before but progresses that much further forward to the ultimate end of death.

Question 5: The image of "crooked eclipse"(line 7) is most closely linked to which other image in the poem?                                                                            

a) the pebbled shore (line 1)                                       

b) sequent toil (line 4)                                                  

c) the main light (line 5)                                               

d) beauty's brow (line 10)                                            

e) nature's truth (line 11)

Answer: C. "The main of light" (5) refers both to the apex of the sun and to maturity, when life reaches the height of its beauty and power. Shakespeare's "crooked eclipse" (7) is an image of age and darkening light.

Question 6: In context, the phase "transfix the flourish" (line 9) is best understood to mean

a) preserve the growth.                                                

b) raise the hopes.                                                        

c) satisfy the desires.                                                    

d) thwart the ambition                                                  

e) diminish the vitality 

Answer: E. Throughout the third stanza, Shakespeare uses the imagery of harvest. When he says "Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth, and delves the parallels on beauty's brow" (9-10), he depicts Time as a farmer and the sonnet's subject as a planted field, reaching full fertility only for its fruits to be taken and its flourish "transfixed," in the sense of being pierced or cut.  

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