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Shakespeare Sonnet 60: "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore"

The Shakespeare sonnets play an essential rôle in my poetry world. Those 154 classic sonnets masterfully dramatize truth, beauty, and love.

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 60: "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore"

This clever sonneteer has many times addressed the issue of the passage of time and how it leads to degeneration and decay of both mind and body. In sonnet 60 from the classic Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence, the speaker, however, is once again insisting that his sonnets and other literary creations will essentially bestow immortality on his subjects.

Sonnet 60: "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore"

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Reading of Sonnet 60

Commentary

Shakespeare sonnet 60 finds the speaker musing on the ravages of time. He remains reluctant to accept those ravages, and through the creation of his poetry, he erects a defense against total annihilation.

First Quatrain: Time Like Ocean Waves

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

The first quatrain finds the speaker likening each individual’s time to the waves of the ocean, which "make towards the pebbled shore." He asserts that, as the waves behave, so do "our minutes hasten to their end." Rather than simply moving in a leisurely pace, the waves and therefore time speed on rapidly, that is, they "hasten."

This observation demonstrates that this speaker is not a young man but rather he is a mature individual, who is seasoned in life and who has existed on this earth at a time period commensurate with the ability to know that human life on the physical plane quickly comes to an end.

This experienced speaker further has noticed that the "minutes" flow rapidly as do the waves of the ocean—as everything moves forward, it is replacing that which precedes it, for example, each minute is replaced by another minute the same way that each continuing wave is replaced by another wave as it moves to the ocean shore.

Second Quatrain: Desire for Maturity

Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.

After being born into this world, each young human being feels that life "[c]rawls to maturity"; virtually all youthful folks hanker to be more mature as they are growing "in the main of light." Those youthful people have the notion that they possess unlimited hordes of invincibility, that is, until they run into and are faced with the "[c]rooked eclipses ‘gainst [their] glory."

Those young individuals invariably come face to face with adversity in spite of their possession of an abundance of talents and abilities. Then those young ones must battle against the newly acquired fact that they are actually growing old, and that their bodies are transforming from their glowing youthfulness to an aging maturity that seeks more from their efforts than mere romantic foolishness.

The same element of "Time" that they were handed upon their birth then appears to be confusing to them as they become addled and befuddled. Life's precious gift then transforms into a heavy burden which must be dealt with in order to attain knowledge of the true purpose for living.

Third Quatrain: A Mournful Complaint

Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty's brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:

The speaker continues his mournful complaint as he asserts that "Time" converts youth by carving those unsightly lines in the forehead and around the eyes, those facial wrinkles which serve as a symbol for growing old. "[N]ature’s truth" is gobbled up by the passage of time without regard to how "rare" the individual’s special gift or loveliness might have been.

Individuals are born with unique physical asserts and mental talents, but it matters not at all what those physical/mental assets/gifts/talents are, for "nothing stands but for [Time’s] scythe to mow." Dramatically, the speaker likens time's cutting down youth to a mower whacking down weeds with a scythe.

The speaker stresses this fact that life is fleeting as he dramatizes and portrays the process through repeated metaphoric employment. The speaker understands that human beings experience this phenomenon uniquely but very intensely, and he exploits the issue dramatizing it without mercy.

The Couplet: Softer and Gentler

And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

The final lines serve to soften some of the speaker's earlier intensity. What was blood and guts now becomes a soft gentle exercise in breathing: Even though the punishing "hand of time" may continue in full force against all that is created, his poems will remain filled with those same things, offering them immoral praise.

This speaker's confidence in his ability to bestow immortality on anything he puts into his sonnets remains in place and, if possible, stronger than ever. Time may mow down things, but in his poems they will live as freshly as the day they were born/created.

Although the speaker and even his poems will take on advanced age, his visage will change, but his cache of poems will remain as young and vibrant as ever. What he wishes to preserve, he will place in these beautiful containers (sonnets) that will preserve his vision, his attitude, and his profound thought processes. Thus, his vibrant dramas will remain communicative as long as anyone is left alive and able to experience them.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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