The Looking Glass of Time

Of all the sonnets that Shakespeare wrote, sonnet number 3, often referred to as one of
the “procreation poems,” is perhaps the most intriguing to me. When I read this sonnet for the first time, I was immediately struck by the opening line, in which the poet commands his reader, or intended patron, to “look in thy glass” and consider his reflection. Although the primary motive for this suggestion is to get the subject to convince himself to reproduce and pass his beauty and features to offspring, in an effort to protect his image from the ravaging time, I read the sonnet through a different, more practical lens. Upon first encounter with the text, I applied the poet’s suggestion to myself, and even interpreted it as a life lesson of sorts, a reminder to make the most of your “prime” while you are young, so that in the future you may still see your prosperity in the faces of not only your children, but even in your own reflection. In this context, I found the sonnet to be extremely inspirational and prodding at even modern readers’ conscience of where their focus in life truly lies. For example, in lines 7-8 Shakespeare’s diction is pointed and rings with both accusation and warning (“Or who is he so fond will be the tomb/of his self-love, to stop posterity”). To me, the words “tomb” and “self-loving” evoke the seriousness and even urgency of the poet, discouraging people from being too focused on themselves at the current moment, ultimately for fear of a lonely death. Here, I believe, the threat of death or the “tomb” does not just represent physical decay with time, but also the dying of dreams and beautiful features kept to oneself, if not passed on in children. The concept of children, too, I read to be both literal and figurative. Although one interpretation of this sonnet is that it is important to physically give birth to children that will carry your best features, I see “children” as also referring to anything in this life that you invest in at an early age, whether it be a family relationship, making a positive name for yourself, or a good cause that you will continue to see benefits from; benefits that may even outlive yourself after death. Although this is a somewhat dramatic interpretation, I believe that to a certain extent this particular sonnet is applicable to everyone’s life, which connects readers of the present with an author and work from the distant past.

~Gabi Loveday

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