Time may well be the most confusing, Incomprehensible and paradox matter In our universe. There seems to be no possibility of influencing it in any way and we have to accept that it will always follow its own course. While most would agree, William Shakespeare – in his own way – was different. In his Sonnet 19, his lyrical I even tries to stop it, this unstoppable force that alters and consumes everything, this “Devouring time”l, as it Is called In the first verse.
Enveloped In the usual Shakespearian structure of the sonnet, the (female) lyrical I allows time to do whatever It wishes with the world, but forbids It to consume one thing: Her lover’s beauty. As usual for the Shakespearian Sonnet, it consists of 3 quatrains and a closing couplet. Usually, these four sub-units present themselves as thematic blocks, suggesting a certain independence from each other and sometimes even a contrast, but we cannot deny that the basic, four-part sonnet structure has not changed since he day It was created.
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Embedding the human perception of time In such a structure, we are faced by a twofold demonstration of namelessness and superiority. Therefore, it seems to be the natural conclusion that the lyrical I addresses “Time”2 as it would address one of the deities found in several sonnets of Shakespearean and others’. It goes without saying that the characteristic four-part structure of a sonnet can have a great variety of worldly counterparts, be It the four elements, the four archangels or the four temperaments. In Sonnet 19. He lyrical I makes the association quite obvious: “Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’s”3. If we assume that each part of the sonnet corresponds with one of the seasons, the connection between the endless and elusive concept of time is limited to the human perspective: Each part of the sonnet corresponds with a stage of life. In the first quatrain, time Is presented as the consuming force in life that seems almighty because It will even defeat the lion, the king of the animals and the earth’s “sweet rood”4 seems to tie the quatrain to the concept of youth.
As humans age and become adults, they start to see the “wide world and all her fading sweets”5, the sweetest of which is certainly love, which will become the matter of argument in the following verses. The focus of the sonnet now shifts onto the love between the lyrical I and her lover, emphasizing it as an important factor during adulthood. As life progresses and humans start to recognize that time also affects themselves, It presents Itself as harsh and unforgiving.
The lyrical I even considers It a “heinous crime”6. Eventually, old time will do its worst and life will end. These last two verses imply a certain level of surrender, but in the end, the corporeal has to be given up anodes not matter anymore, because time has also revealed a new truth: The most important thing was not the sensual love connected to the lover’s body, but the platonic love that will defeat time and in the “verse ever live young” And make the earth devour her own sweet brood,
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s Jaws, And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood, Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’s, And do whatever thou wilt, swift-footed Time, To the wide world and all her fading sweets; But I forbid thee one most heinous crime- O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow, Nor draw no lines there with thin antique pen, Him in thy course untainted do allow For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men. Yet do thy worst, old Time. Despite thy wrong My love shall in my verse ever live young.