Sonnet 12: Annotations and Analysis

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An annotated version of Shakespeare's twelfth sonnet as well as a short, but thorough, analysis.


Sonnet 12: Annotations[When I do count the clock that tells the time,And see the brave day sunk in hideous night,When I behold the violet past prime,And sable curls, all silvered oer with white; (Notes: Sable brings up heavenly imagery and therefore that of death)When lofty trees I see barren of leaves (Notes: Consonance creates euphony which connects the words and draw attention to the stark imagery of the constantly changing seasons used in the linea constant effect of Time)Which erst from heat did canopy the herd, (1)And summers green all girded up in sheaves,Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,] (2) (Notes: Alliteration with the b sound; Constant contrast occurs of first two quatrains using a variety of sensory language and metaphor)Then of thy beauty do I question make, (Notes: All figurative language is finally explained or made into valid examples with this line)That thou among the wastes of time must go (Notes: must go creates a sense of inevitability) Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake (3) (Notes: sweets makes on think of childrenforeshadowing; recurring s sounds create a sense of continuity, in direct contrast with the context of the line, bringing attention to it)And die as fast as they see others grow; (Notes: The word grow also brings up imagery of children)And nothing gainst Times scythe can make defence (Notes: Apostrophe is used with Time in this line, giving it greater importance as it is addressed as a person would be)Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence. (Notes: Last lines presents a final solution to the posed problem) Represents the showing of contrast or antitheses toward the following phrase or word also highlighted in redRepetition of the word when alludes to the passing constant passage of time and how aging continuously occursUImportant Metaphors:1) Arouses thoughts of a nice, comfortable placeyouththat is no longer there2) Compares the constant process of the harvest and of the seasons in nature to the aging of a man: what was once alive and in its prime, now being carried away, aged and withered, to make way for new life to grow again next year3) Sweets and candies melt away with timethey are nice while they last, but dont go on forever and it is the same with beautyIThe repetition of the word in different ways shows one must be courageous to go against Timeno matter what you are, it reinforces the effort it take.

AnalysisIn Sonnet 12, Shakespeare writes that the effects of Time are all but inescapable: The only way to have life after death is through offspring. Throughout the poem, stark contrasts are given between objects of nature in their youth, vital and alive, and after Time has taken its toll. One example of direct antithesis occurs in the second line in the phrases brave day and hideous night. Day is a constant occurrence in life, as well as symbolizing happiness and energy. By showing not even it is out of Times reach, he puts things into perspective for the reader, reminding them just how fragile life is and how insignificant a human is in the larger scope of things. He also utilizes strong words and leaves no space for question such as must, nothing, and die. Die is even more noteworthy because there is no metaphor surrounding it, as would usually be found in other sonnetsit simply is.Possibly the most important metaphor in the sonnet, in lines 7-8, compares summers green, meaning the yearly harvest and its browning and eventual collection, to the imagery of a man, bound up in a coffin rather than in bales, his white and bristly beard visible like the faded, dead stocks of a plant would be. This brings awareness that Times passage, like the yearly harvest, is constant and is just part of life. However, this also implies that a new crop will be planted next year, as it is a process, leading up to the single solution Shakespeare offers. The word sweets in the eleventh line of the poem foreshadows the denouement as well, drawing up the image of a child in the readers mind, making its usage particularly important.In the final couplet of the sonnet, the contrast that exists throughout the rest of the poem, continues, but with a more critical tone, as Shakespeare finally states what all the previous figurative language and metaphors were leading up to and the poem reaches its climax with the line nothing gainst Times scythe can make defence . The fourteenth line suddenly rebukes all this build up with a single solution, stating that one must breed in order to stand up to Time. Just as farmers must plant new crops each year, humans must, too, create new life not only so humanity can continue to progress, but because it is in this way a piece of their predecessor, no matter how small, can live on, finding a fresh start and a new day, in the next generation who will eventually do the same, making the circle complete.