Sonnet 12

The 154 sonnets written by William Shakespeare cast a wide spectrum between the
appreciation of natural beauty, changing of the seasons, and the constant progression of Time. Time has a large part as a character in the sonnets, and is featured many times throughout the poems. Sonnet #12 uses descriptive language and detailed comparisons to discuss the effects of time, and how much of an impact it has on beauty and mortality. The beginning of the sonnet uses metaphors to discuss aging, saying, “When I behold the violet past prime,/ And sable curls, all silver’d o’er with white;” (ll. 3-4). These lines discuss objects, violets and hair, that have aged past their youth and become old to draw a similarity between them and the fleeting youth of humans. Human hair grows white with age, just as a violet begins to lose its luster as time passes. Comparisons like these reveal the attention to detail Shakespeare had to the effects of age, and show how obsessed he was with the idea of losing beauty and youthfulness as time passed. However, Shakespeare notes a specific detail right after, saying, “When lofty of trees I see barren of leaves,/ Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,” (ll. 5-6). These lines are metaphors, and can be inferred that the speaker is referring to family trees, or the fact that the subject of the poem has no children to carry on their line. By making note of this in a sonnet about the passage of time, Shakespeare makes the argument that Time will continue to pass, but by having children and continuing one’s legacy, they won’t be forgotten once they have aged and died. This is one of Shakespeare’s more poignant sonnets about time, because not only does it address the speaker’s fears about aging, but it proposes a solution to becoming immortal- producing offspring and creating a legacy.

~Allison Spradley

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