Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 350

Time

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Time gives life and takes away beauty. It beats on eternally "like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore." As it does, it inches each of us closer to our deaths. It even takes away the beauty of youth, "feeding" on it and digging wrinkles into faces which were once beautiful. In the last couplet, there is hope of something that can withstand the ravages of time: poetry and, therefore, love.

Beauty

Beauty is fleeting and cannot escape the ravages of the effects of time. Time is seen as a parasite, "feeding" on beauty and destroying with wrinkles a face which was once beautiful. In this way, we are all eventual victims and are helpless to stop the loss of youthful beauty as time beats on like "waves . . . towards the pebbled shore."

Nature

Humans are closely linked to nature in Sonnet 60. We are seen facing time, which is compared to waves, the sun, and a harvest. In each of these comparisons, humans fall victim to the forces of nature and are helpless to overcome the effects forced upon us by the passage of time. But in the end, we are provided with a different image: poetry. This is separate from nature and something that can stand apart from time's ravaging effects. Therefore, although humans cannot overcome forces of nature and or the eventual effects of time, there is hope in creating things of lasting significance, like poetry.

Death

The first twelve lines focus on the passage of time and a feeling of the hopelessness of trying to escape it. If time is beating on eternally, it is therefore bringing us ever closer to death. All of this hopelessness is given a glimmer of hope in the end. There is a way for humans to overcome the inevitability of death: by leaving a legacy of art. And the thing that provides inspiration toward this art (in this case, poetry) is the love the speaker feels in "praising thy worth." Therefore, love provides the inspiration needed to produce something that can stand outside the confines of time and certain death.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 471

This sonnet is closely related to sonnets 63 through 65, and many others in the sonnet sequence, which also bemoan the inexorable advance of time and pose the question: How can beauty survive, given that all created things are transient and travel their allotted course to death? The theme of these sonnets was in part inspired by a passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.): “The baby, first born into the light of day, lies weak and helpless: after that he crawls on all fours, moving his limbs as animals do, and gradually, on legs as yet trembling and unsteady, stands upright, supporting himself by some convenient prop. Then he becomes strong and swift of foot, passing through the stage of youth till, having lived through the years of middle age also, he slips down the incline of old age, towards life’s setting. Age undermines and destroys the strength of former years.” This passage gave Shakespeare the image of “Nativity, once in the main of light,/ Crawls to maturity,” and the passage that follows in Ovid, “Helen weepswhen she sees herself in the glass, wrinkled with age,” may have suggested to Shakespeare the image of “delves the parallels in beauty’s brow.”

Shakespeare is not content to leave the world, or his friend, to mutability. The attempt in this sonnet to immortalize the friend through the poet’s verse is also a theme of many other Shakespearean sonnets, including numbers 19, 55, 63, 65, 100, 101, and 107. Some readers may find the resolution of the problem, which is accomplished in the final two lines of the poem, unsatisfactory. How can the hope expressed in the couplet somehow outweigh the remorseless pressure that has been built up in the first twelve lines? It might be argued that a poem about a beautiful person now dead is a poor substitute for the presence of the living person. The same argument might be applied to the solution proposed in sonnets 1 through 17, that the friend should marry and produce offspring, and thereby achieve a kind of immortality, but it should be pointed out that these are secular poems. The poet refuses to take refuge in any belief system that will soften or remove the effect of mutability. In this sonnet, as in others, there is no Christian heaven in which the lovers can look forward to another meeting, and the thought is not Neoplatonic; the friend is not described as a shadow or reflection of an eternal form, existing in an ideal world not subject to change. On the contrary, in this sonnet the human and the natural worlds are inextricably intertwined; the images of the devastating effects of time can be applied equally to both human and nonhuman realms. The poet thus works towards his triumph, limited though it may be, entirely in the terms that the natural order offers.

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