This sonnet is so famous that it almost makes commentary unessential. It will always be one of the best sonnets in the history of language. The lively and rapid passage of time, which brings every thing to an end, is described, not indeed in abundance, but with such noteworthy and overwhelming effect that humanity almost stares us in the face as we read it. The logic of the lines ends with the line itself is like the ticking of a clock or the unstoppable motion of a pendulum as it swings from side to side.
The importance of the placing of this sonnet here (12) (I believe it’s because of the twelve hours of the day) as well as that of the ‘minute’ sonnet at (60) is hard to establish, but at the very least it points to an organized hand, which, like the clock itself, measures out the chain of important events as they occur. It is true, however, that it is not clear that we have Shakespeare’s order, so this is just my opinion. As for the forms of the sonnet, we are clear that it was definitely written by Shakespeare. A sonnet is a one-stanza poem of fourteen lines, written in iambic pentameter.
One means to illustrate a verse line is to speak about how many stressed and unstressed syllables are in the line. A simple grouping of syllables, some stressed, some unstressed, is called a foot. The iambic foot is an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Pentameter means there are five feet in the line. “Iambic Pentameter,” subsequently, means a line of ten syllables, which interchanges unstressed and stressed syllables according to the iambic measure. The rhyme scheme of a sonnet refers to the pattern shaped by the rhyming words at the end of each line.
Every end-rhyme is assigned a letter, and the fourteen letters assigned to the sonnet illustrate the rhyme scheme. Different types of sonnets have dissimilar rhyme schemes. The Shakespearean or English sonnet was essentially developed in the sixteenth century by the Earl of Surrey, but is named after Shakespeare because of his great sonnet series (a sequence of sonnets all exploring the same theme) printed in the year 1609. The Shakespearean sonnet has the rhyme scheme ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, shaping three quatrains (four lines in a group) and a closing couplet (two rhymed lines).
The trouble is generally developed in the first three quatrains, each quatrain with an original idea growing out of the preceding one. Sometimes the first two quatrains are dedicated to the same thought, similar to the octave of the Petrarchan sonnet, and followed by a similar Volta or turn. Most noticeably unlike the Petrarchan version, the Shakespearean sonnet is brought to a hard-hitting declaration in the diminutive final couplet. The Petrarchan or Italian sonnet, named because of the fourteenth century Italian poet Petrarch, has the rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDECDE. The first eight lines, which all end in rhyme A or B, form the octave.
The last six lines, which end in C, D, or E, form the sestet. Alternative rhyme schemes for the sestet also consist of CDCDCD and CDEDCE. There is frequently a pause or break in thought between the octave and sestet. That again is the Volta or turn. Conventionally, one main thought is set out in the octave and brought to a resolution in the sestet. The general effect, of the poem, is dismal, and the closing couplet, with its valiant stand against time, restricted to a single line in the poem, gives the notion that nothing will be saved, and that the reality of what the poet has been saying all along is as insignificant as breath and water.
In line one the word count equals a testimony or to sum up, and the word tells gives us a report (by chiming). In days when light was limited, the audible telling of time was vital, therefore the use of repeater clocks which, when a button was pushed, or a string pulled, the chiming of a clock was sounding. A village and town clock also strikes on the hour. In the second line, Shakespeare gives us the word brave. The word here almost has a visual implication, signifying brilliance and courage, as opposed to the cruelty and darkness of hideous night.
Compare Miranda’s exclamation in The Tempest: Oh brave new world, That has such people in’t! Tem. V. 1. 183-4, and Henry King: Brave flowers, that I could gallant it like you And be as little vain! (c. 1650). In line 3 of the sonnet, the violet is symbolic of the Spring and new growth or the world. Prime is the same as the period of excellence. Therefore past prime is past their finest, vanishing, dying. The term sable, in line 4 is equivalent to black or darkness, and all silvered o’er with white equals having turned gray due to the paleness of age. The picture is of the black or dark hair of a youth turning gray and white as he develops into an old man.
Line 5 shows us the leafless trees that are illustrated as bleak, signifying waste and uselessness, and the negative processes of age and decay through time. This same portrayal is in Shakespeare’s sonnet #73. Then in line 6 we have erst which means previously or former. Also the word canopy is used to show cover, to shade. Cattle and sheep stand under trees in times of heat, but canopy also shows a cover to the darkness within these lines. Then, falling right into place, are the phrases summer’s green and girded up in sheaves.
The first refers to the wheat or barley growing in the pastures and the second are tied together with string surrounding the middle to make a bunch or bundle. This falls into place’ because of the cattle and sheep that also herd together, in a bunch or bundle, to stay in the shade, away from the shade. Before the days of combine harvester machines, wheat was cut by hand, and then tied together into sheaves, which were carried to the barn on a cart or “bier”. Borne on the bier says the wheat was carried away on the wagon. A bier was also used for carrying the coffin at a funeral. In our time it has nearly wholly that meaning.
Q’s beare is an old spelling of bier. With white and bristly beard is the tip of the wheat shaped like a sort of fuzz, a whiskery growth around the grain. Line 9 is a beautiful line that simply states, “then I begin to reflect what might happen to your beauty. Then I begin to question the stability (and reality) of your beauty”. Line 10 suggests that the reader also will decline and decompose like all things. The wastes of time is indicative not only of the demolition caused by time, but of deserts, where no life survives, as though beauty were damned in the end to wander in uninhabited spaces.
Line eleven’s phrases sweets and beauties and do themselves forsake illustrate abandon ness. Sweets and beauties are obvious for material things – sweet things and beautiful things. Do themselves forsake is to remove themselves (to oblivion). The as fast as they see others grow in line 12 means as one thing expires, another thing grows to substitute it. There is permanent metamorphosis. Line 13 talks of time and death and how they were both often depicted (in churches, books etc. ) as carrying a scythe with which to mow down whatever they desired. The scythe is not a tool that is frequently seen at the present time.
It had a long curved blade and a handle set vertically to the blade, which was held using both hands. As it swept over the grass it cut a large half circle, and then moved forward a few steps for the next cut. There is an exceptional portrayal of a field of hay being cut by this technique in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Part III Chs. 4,5. Wheat seems usually to have been cut using a sickle, a much smaller tool than the scythe. The hay cannot protect itself against the sweep of the scythe’s blade. There is always an opposite. Finally, line fourteen’s phrase Save breed means “except having children”.
Breed” here means the origination of children. Brave in this situation proposes disobedience of time’s viciousness, as well as the brilliance of a show, and it repeats the same word from line 2 above. Sonnet 12 is an incredible poem. I feel connected to it in many ways. I complete feel that Shakespeare really knew that all would fall in love with this sonnet, especially if they would just learn what it means, not exactly, but to each individual person. That is what I believe; the sonnet is an individual poem, in which individuals like it, but for their own reasons.