Sonnet 19

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

Footnotes

  1. This line makes the same claim as the final line in Sonnet 18: “So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.” Poetry can resist devouring time and preserve beauty and youth forever. However, unlike the formal strength that demonstrates poetry’s power in Sonnet 18, the weakness of the meter and rhyme in this line are an example of weak poetry that undermines his claim.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Despite the speaker’s claim, this poem does not offer an example of “my love” living on through verse. The poem discusses neither the youth nor the speaker’s love for the youth in any detail. Instead, the poem memorializes the speaker’s own preoccupations with time. In the end, the speaker fails in his struggle. It can be argued, however, that Shakespeare succeeds in his portrayal of the speaker’s failure.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. On a formal level, the speaker’s final argument falls apart. The end rhyme of “wrong”/“young” is a slant rhyme, and does not offer the full forcefulness of a typical rhyming couplet. The meter of the final line is conspicuously weak as well. The pentameter falters on “ever,” which forces the syllables into unnatural stress patterns. The noticeable weakness of the final couplet underscores the weakness of the speaker’s fight against time. Despite his attempts to preserve his love through verse, time cannot be bested.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. “Swift-footed” is an allusion to the myth of Achilles. Achilles’s mother Thetis dips her son in the river Styx in order to make him immortal. However, because she hold him by his heel, he was left with one fatal flaw that led to his downfall. This allusion reveals the futility of the speaker’s objective in this poem: like Achilles’s mother, his rhetorical attempts to make his beautiful young beloved immortal are fatally flawed.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The conspicuous capitalization of “Time” in line 13 strengthens the authorial nature of the character. By referring to time as “old Time,” the speaker addresses both the longstanding nature of time’s death-bringing faculties while creating a tone of familiarity.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The speaker’s struggle against the passage of time is ultimately selfish. As generations come and go, “beauty’s pattern” continually falls upon new faces and forms. Thus the passage of time is not inherently sorrowful, for the loss of beauty allows for the arrival of beauty, just as the death of the Phoenix makes way for its own rebirth. The speaker cannot recognize this truth because of his obsession with his beloved.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. By using the metaphors that dominate the first quatrain, the speaker focuses on the “sorry seasons,” or negative consequences, of each of these natural cycles. He dwells on the earth’s consumption, the decay of the lion and tiger, and immolation of the phoenix. He does not recognize, however, that the earth devours so it can reproduce, the lion and tiger fade so that younger generations can overtake them, and that the phoenix burns so it can be reborn. The speaker’s focus on the “sorry seasons” demonstrates his limited vision and explains why this poem is both rhetorically unconvincing and logically weak.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The odd syntax of this line makes “Him” the focus of the line rather than Time, the actual actor within the line. In the speaker’s attempt to make the youth the focus of this line, he ironically weakens his command against Time. This move reflects the theme of the poem: the speaker’s fervent attempts to preserve the youth against time prevent him from making a strong argument that will actually be able to combat time.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. A Phoenix is a mythological bird that lives for centuries, sets itself on fire, and then is reborn from the ashes. It is a symbol for immortality and the cyclical nature of all life. It is notable that the speaker views the death of the Phoenix in a negative light. He resists the necessary cycles of nature, for those cycles will cause his beloved to decay and die.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. By placing a pen in time’s hand, the speaker further deepens the illusion of a discourse between himself and time. By imagining that both he and time operate through the same medium, the speaker strengthens his belief that time can be confronted and defeated. In the context of the “antique pen,” it becomes clear that the sonnet itself serves as the speaker’s armament. This rhetorical argument is a theme throughout the sequence.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. This metaphor, however, is an example of the rhetorically weak structure of this poem. The speaker repeats the same images rather than reinforcing his ideas with different imagery. This creates an uncharacteristically flimsy argument in this sonnet.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Time takes the shape of a character over the course of the poem. In the opening quatrain, time is a “devouring” force. In the final six lines, the speaker personifies time as an artist, craftsman, and writer. This personification places time on a similar plane as the speaker—himself an artist. Through this illusion, the speaker believes he can confront time itself.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. This metaphor for aging and declining strength repeats the idea of the first line in this poem. Like the Lion losing its claws, the Tiger loses the quality that makes it fierce and powerful. This repetition underscores the inevitable decay of all things.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. By beginning his entreaty with “O,” the speaker places himself in a position of relative powerlessness. Framed by the “O,” the words “carve not” become less a command than a plea. Throughout the poem, the speaker’s confrontation with time itself proves to be ineffective.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. “Forbid” is a strong command against Time. Whereas in Sonnet 18 the speaker passively claims the power of his poetry, here he inserts the subjective “I” to challenge personified Time. However, this strong commanding tone is immediately undercut in the following line.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. The earth devouring her brood is a metaphor for burial. It is also an illustration of a life cycle: that which creates you, the earth or nature, is that which destroys you. This represents the cyclical nature of time and ironically undercuts the speaker’s claim within this sonnet: though he tells Time that he will preserve the youth in his poetry forever, this metaphor demonstrates that inevitably cyclical Time will win out.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. In a typical sonnet, the first two quatrains introduce the poem’s central images, themes, and questions. At line 9 there is typically a tonal and thematic shift—known as the “volta” in the Petrarchan tradition—that leads towards the poem’s conclusion. In Sonnet 19, the volta occurs after just seven lines. The result is a structural imbalance and a weakening of the speaker’s rhetorical force.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. This is an allusion to the Roman god Saturn. In mythology, Saturn ate each one of his children upon their births because he was afraid of being overthrown. Shakespeare uses similar imagery in his play Titus Andronicus when queen Tamora eats her own sons.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. “Devouring time” is a powerful way to begin this poem. The consonant sounds d and t are the voiced and unvoiced versions of the same consonant, while ng and m are similarly related. These consonant pairs compliment the connotations of “devouring”—animalistic, beastly, voracious—and begins the poem in a strikingly more violent, powerful tone than the previous sonnets.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff