Sonnet 19
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Sonnet 19. Devouring Time. The Shakespearean Sonnet Form. A fourteen-line lyric poem. Traditionally written in iambic pentameter—that is, in lines ten syllables long. Divided into four parts.

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Sonnet 19

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Sonnet 19

Sonnet 19

Devouring Time


The shakespearean sonnet form

The Shakespearean Sonnet Form

  • A fourteen-line lyric poem.

  • Traditionally written in iambic pentameter—that is, in lines ten syllables long.

  • Divided into four parts.

  • The first three parts are each four lines long, and are known as quatrains, rhymed ABAB; the fourth part is called the couplet, and is rhymed GG.

  • The volta (turn) is delayed until the final couplet.

  • The Shakespearean sonnet is often used to develop a sequence of metaphors or ideas, one in each quatrain, while the couplet offers either a summary or a new take on the preceding images or ideas.


First quatrain

First Quatrain

  • Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws, 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;

  • Shakespeare uses animal imagery to highlight time’s destructive effects on nature.


Sonnet 19

  • Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,

  • The first quatrain starts with an apostrophe-an address to something that is personified-to "devouring Time," which comes from the proverb "time devours all things." Time is set up as being monstrous; Time is greedily eating up life. Lions symbolize dominion, and they are often called the "king of beasts." Time makes the lion's claws blunt, in doing so Time is essentially stripping them of what makes them a powerful animal.

  • Here Shakespeare’s use of personification depicts Time as monstrous, destroying the fiercest as well as the mildest things that can be found in nature. The governing metaphor of Sonnet 19 is Time is a destroyer.


Sonnet 19

  • And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;

  • Time makes Mother Nature eat/kill her offspring. The earth devours her own children in the sense that they all return to the dust and ashes of which they were made. In Greek mythology, Saturn, the old earth God, was supposed to have eaten all of his children as soon as they were born. (See the painting by Goya).


Sonnet 19

  • Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,

  • Tigers have long been seen as powerful animals that inspire both fear and wonder. Time plucks (pull/ pick out) the tiger's keen (sharp) teeth from its jaw, which, like the lion, is part of what makes the tiger a tiger. Rotten teeth were a sign of age. Even the tiger, almost a fabulous animal in Shakespeare's time, was subject to decay. His fierceness was abated by the passage of time.


Sonnet 19

  • And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

  • The phoenix is widely associated with immortality; the bird gathers twigs from all over and builds a nest, which catches fire and the bird is consumed by the fire and from the fire's ashes a new phoenix arises. Time does not allow the phoenix to be reborn, instead it just dies in the flames; Time takes away the phoenix's immortality.

  • Compare this with the third quatrain in Sonnet 73


Sonnet 19

  • Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets, And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time, To the wide world and all her fading sweets; But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

  • The second quatrain celebrates the paradox of dying beauty.


Sonnet 19

  • Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet'st,

  • Winter was a gloomy and miserable season. Spring and summer were happy, autumn also, but with a hint of the coming end, and of slightly ambiguous beauty. Sibilance (repetition of ‘s’) highlights the rapid nature of time’s passing. The speaker observes that seasons are both glad and sorry about the swift passage of time.

  • as thou fleet'st = as you swiftly pass by.


Sonnet 19

  • And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,

  • The poet no longer thinks he can hold back Time, and therefore rhetorically allows him (it) to do whatever he wishes.

  • The use of personification reinforces the quick passing of time; we imagine Time as swiftly running away, too fast for us to catch up with. There is a tone of resignation or passivity.


Sonnet 19

  • To the wide world and all her fading sweets;

  • her fading sweets = beautiful things of the world which are doomed to fade and die.

  • Nature is submissive to Time; nature accepts that Time is going to do whatever it wants to do, and there is nothing nature can do about it so nature is resigned to Time's whims.


Sonnet 19

  • But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:

  • In a sense, the third quatrain starts here. This is the poem’s volta, a line earlier than usual. It introduces Time as committing a heinous (shockingly evil) crime against the beloved young man. The speaker takes on a dominate voice when he forbids time from committing this heinous crime.


Third quatrain

Third Quatrain

  • O, carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen; Him in thy course untainted do allow For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.

  • The speaker tells Time what the heinous crime is; to draw lines (i.e. wrinkles) on the young man's forehead, to make him appear older would be the most heinous crime that Time could commit.


Sonnet 19

  • O, carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow

  • Time is transformed into a sculptor who defaces the young man’s beauty

  • The furrows, (lines and wrinkles, as in a ploughed field), made by time in love's fair brow, are symbolic of the ageing process.

  • The use of ‘carve’ equates hours with a knife


Sonnet 19

  • Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;

  • The use of draw here and carve in the line above almost imply that Time is a sculptor or artist. Perhaps this is a suggestion of duplicity on the part of Time - the only results of Time's artistry are death and destruction. antique pen - all of times artefacts, sickle, scythe, hourglass, clothing, could be described as antique, since they are as old as time itself. But the pen here, as well as being antique, also has the effect of making people antique. Time as an artist creates ugliness, instead of preserving beauty, which is something that the speaker cannot allow to happen.


Sonnet 19

  • Him in thy course untainted do allow

  • As you (Time) pass by on your course of destruction, leave him, the lovely youth, untouched and unharmed...


Sonnet 19

  • For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.

  • So that he remains as a template (pattern) from which future generations may know how beauty was constructed. The idea of a pattern or form or ideal by which material bodies were derived is Neo-Platonic. succeeding men = people of future generations. to succeed is 'to follow on from'.


Couplet

Couplet

  • Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,My love shall in my verse ever live young.

  • The speaker seems to dare Time to do his absolute worst on the young man, even though it would be wrong for Time to do so. The speaker dares Time, because he knows that no matter what time does to his beloved, the young man will remain beautiful in the speaker's verse.


Sonnet 19

  • Yet, do thy worst old Time: despite thy wrong,

  • An abandonment of the prohibition made above. Time cannot be stopped, whatever we do. Therefore to succumb is the only remedy. Immortality may be sought in other ways.


Sonnet 19

  • My love shall in my verse ever live young.

  • Immortal youth can be achieved for my love (the young man) through my verse. My love could also refer to 'my love for him', which would remain therefore forever fresh and green. This latter meaning is perhaps the predominant one, since the youth's eventual decay is underscored by the description of time's swift foot in this and other sonnets.


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