A Short Analysis Of Shakespeare’S Sonnet 12: ‘When I Do Count The Clock’

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Literature A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12: ‘When I do count the clock’

By Dr Oliver Tearle

‘When I vì count the clochồng that tells the time’: so begins one of the more famous ‘Procreation Sonnets’, the suite of 17 sonnets that begin Shakespeare’s cycle of poems lớn the Fair Youth.

Bạn đang xem: A short analysis of shakespeare’s sonnet 12: ‘when i do count the clock’


But how should we analysis Sonnet 12? Below are some notes towards an analysis of this poem.

When I vì chưng count the clochồng that tells the time,And see the brave sầu day sunk in hideous night;When I behold the violet past prime,And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,Borne on the bier with trắng & bristly beard,Then of thy beauty do I question make,That thou among mỏi the wastes of time must go,Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsakeAnd die as fast as they see others grow;And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defenceSave breed, to lớn brave hyên when he takes thee hence.


Sonnet 12: summary

First, a brief summary of Sonnet 12.


Shakespeare presents a series of images suggesting the passing of time and the ageing và decaying of living things. Observing how everything decays and dies, Shakespeare begins to question the Fair Youth’s beauty, which he has been praising till now: even the Youth, young as he is now, will grow old & die.

And the only thing that can ‘defend’ us from this inevitable process is breeding, so that as we grow old we can be nội dung that we left behind something that will outlast us.


When I vì count the cloông chồng that tells the time,And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;When I behold the violet past prime,And sable curls, all silvered o’er with white;

The first four lines of Sonnet 12 introduce the poem’s theme: the passing of time. Shakespeare ‘count the cloông xã that tells the time’, and observes the sun (‘brave sầu day’) sinking below the horizon, giving way to lớn the ‘hideous’ night. He sees violets withering và ‘past prime’ và the blachồng hair of men (or women) in their prime turn lớn Trắng as a result of the ageing process.


When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves,Borne on the bier with Trắng and bristly beard,

Lines 5-8 continue this succession of images: tall & mighty trees without leaves in the autumn which, when they had leaves, could provide shelter from the sun or rain for the animals in the wood; và the once-green grasses of summer which have been gathered up into lớn tốt bundles, và have turned trắng where they have been harvested and stacked up (a ‘bier’ is a sort of sản phẩm điện thoại table used at funerals for conveying dead bodies, and so the grasses are implicitly associated with human life).


These two images cleverly continue the images offered in the first quatrain, but also add something: the images being offered to lớn us are now hinting at associations with bearing và raising children, even though the Bard is talking about trees and grass.

cảnh báo how he focuses on the way the trees, when they were in the prime of summer, used their leaves to lớn provide a shelter or ‘canopy’ for the animals under their leaves (under their care, lượt thích symbolic children?); and look at how he focuses on the grass which has been cut and bundled up for the harvest, a time when fruit and crops are ripe for picking, suggesting ideas of fertility, which are designed khổng lồ điện thoại tư vấn lớn mind the Fair Youth’s own prime và his fitness to produce children.

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Then of thy beauty do I question make,That thou among muốn the wastes of time must go,Since sweets and beauties vì themselves forsakeAnd die as fast as they see others grow;

In lines 9-12, Shakespeare makes this association explicit: all of these images of things once in their prime now growing old prompts hlặng to lớn consider và analyse the Youth’s own mortality.


He, too, will đại bại his beauty và grow old. Note how Shakespeare uses the phrase ‘the wastes of time’, with ‘wastes’ not only suggesting a desolate (i.e. infertile) l& but also hinting at the ‘waste’ of a life if it is not used lớn create new life through bearing offspring. Sweet & beautiful things, Shakespeare says, ‘forsake’ themselves, give themselves up to lớn the ravages of time, & die as quickly as new things grow to replace them.

Again, Shakespeare is hinting here that the natural order demands that men, including the Youth, should sire children lớn replace them when they themselves decay & perish.


And nothing ‘gainst Time’s scythe can make defenceSave breed, to lớn brave sầu hyên ổn when he takes thee hence.

In the concluding couplet, Shakespeare says that nothing can offer protection against time & death – both Time and Death, of course, often being personified with a scythe, with Death as the Grim Reaper – except having children, since this can help you lớn ‘brave’ or face Time (or Death) when he comes khổng lồ take you.

At least you can rest assured, as you wither & die, that you have done as nature expected and that you will live sầu on through your offspring.

Sonnet 12: analysis

That word ‘brave’, used in the last line, returns us to lớn the ‘brave day’ in the second line of the sonnet. It implicitly suggests that, although putting on a brave sầu face when confronted with Death won’t save you from hyên, any more than the ‘day’ or sun was kept in the sky when night came on, you will, in a sense, ‘rise again’ as the sun does, through your children. (It’s probably going too far khổng lồ suggest there’s a buried pun on sun/son going on here, though it has been suggested that we find such wordplay later in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.)

Sonnet 12 is a great poem khổng lồ analyse, because it provides a series of images, beginning with Shakespeare counting ‘the clock that tells the time’, which gradually and subtly move towards suggestions of breeding as a way to lớn defy time’s destructiveness, until this solution is explicitly offered in the poem’s final line.

Continue to lớn explore Shakespeare’s sonnets with Sonnet 13, or if you’re getting tired of the procreation motif, we advise rushing ahead to the classic that is Sonnet 18. Alternatively, check out our piông xã of the 10 greatest Shakespeare plays & our rundown of the commonest misconceptions about the Bard.

If you’re studying Shakespeare’s sonnets and looking for a detailed & helpful guide lớn the poems, we recommend Stephen Booth’s hugely informative edition, Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Yale Nota Bene)

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. It includes all 154 sonnets, a facsimile of the original 1609 edition, và helpful line-by-line notes on the poems.

The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic và lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History

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 and The Great War, The Waste Land & the Modernist Long Poem.