Sonnet 12
Sonnet 12
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When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night:
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls o'er-silver'd all 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 white and bristly beard:
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence.

This is an enjoyable sonnet that uses nature imagery, found extensively in Petrarca, that Shakespeare uses to get his point across. Not much explication is needed, aside the sustained images of nature, to fully understand its intent, but I would like to point out a peculiar allusion. When reading line 3, "the violet past prime" has made me think of Venus and Adonis. In the end, Adonis melts into the earth and a violet sprouts where his body was, which Venus then places in her heart, signifying the love she has for him. Reading this into the poem makes the few following lines more significant. Having Adonis portrayed as the handsome youth, Shakespeare is alluding to the death of youth (in general and to the young man) through the sonnet. In the next line, it is not certain if "sable" is an adjective or a noun and if "curls" is a noun, referring to hair (which is plausible) or a verb modifying "sable." Invoking the allusion to Adonis here, Shakespeare portends that if Adonis did live longer, he too would have greying hair; thus, Shakespeare sees ["behold"] an Adonis figure, the young man, past his youth. This identification of Adonis with the young man is hinted at in line 9 as he begins thinking of "thy beauty." When reading the "curls" as grey hair, line 5 extends an image of baldness. This is a supposition and does not necessarily render this meaning, but it is a possibility.

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