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Shakespeare Sonnet 65: “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea”

The Shakespeare 154-sonnet sequence remains essential in my poetry tool kit. Masterfully crafted, they dramatize love, beauty, and truth.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - The real "Shakespeare"

Introduction and Text of Sonnet 65: “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea”

One of the strategies employed by this poet is to have his speaker pose a question, often one that at first seems rhetorical, and then subsequently pose a possible answer. In sonnet 64, the speaker posed the problem of time ravaging the things in life that people love. Then in this sonnet 65, the speaker is issuing his answer to the question, his solution to the universal problem. For that speaker, of course, any solution to any problem will not range far from the focus of this sonnet sequence: his talent, his muse, and his "black ink" that he continues to stretch across the page in his brilliant sonnets.

Again, this clever speaker demonstrates his versatility in creating scenarios in which he can perform his excellent skills. He always keeps in mind the desirability of fresh imagery, lush colors, and dulcet sounds. Often he provided images that appear to all five senses. The reader, thereby, cannot help but experience each little drama with a full range of emotional responses.

Sonnet 65: “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea”

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Reading of Sonnet 65

Commentary

Sonnet 64 lamented the decay of the physical/material world, and sonnet 65 provides the remedy that mitigates the ravages of that decay. The sonnet sequence continues to move the speaker down his path to total awareness. He takes his tools of truth, beauty, and love with him as he muses on his own life’s purpose.

First Quatrain: Cosmic Strength

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

The speaker of Shakespeare Sonnet 65 begins by listing some of the strong physical attributes of the cosmos, "brass, [ ] stone, [ ] earth, [the] boundless sea," but again laments, that their demise is always imminent. Even these objects that seem so sturdy and enduring are all ravaged by the power of "mortality." By first acknowledging the tru ways of nature, the speaker can then address that nature with a human response that seeks to transcend the ravages that nature bestows upon all natural objects, including the human form.

The speaker then inquires, wondering how beauty can overcome the ravages of time, when beauty seems to be a quality as fragile as a flower. Thus the question becomes, How can beauty overcome the devastation brought on by old age and Time, when beauty offers no opposition? Beauty's motion is less than that of a flower, which also portrays beauty but no power of struggle. The speaker has noted to lack of struggle in such a one as the flower; he is accustomed to human struggling and muses on the that lack in the lower evolved members on the evolutionary spectrum.

Second Quatrain: Summer as Symbol

O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but Time decays?

The speaker continues his query, wondering about the brevity of summer and how that bright season become wracked through “battering.” Summer symbolizes all the bright and sunny things of the earth that give pleasure, but the fact remains that that season lasts only a few short months. Even rocks that seem so strong and "impregnable," in actuality, "are not so stout." Not even "gates of steel" are strong enough to stand up to ruinous Time, who causes all matter to perish. The speaker’s images include natural as well as man-made items to demonstrate that all things come under the sway of duality, or the pairs of opposites.

Third Quatrain: Demanding an Answer

O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?

The speaker exclaims, inquiring of his own musing, and emphatically demanding to know where Time hides his "best jewel." Where does Time keep the things that he truly wants to spare? The speaker furthermore wonders if there is some “strong hand” that can slow the swift pace of decay The speaker’s questions are not merely rhetorical, because those questions imply strongly that a solution to the problem does exist.

The speaker then throws out a further inquiry regarding the possible existence of some force that can retard or arrest this spoilage of “beauty.” By posing these questions, this speaker is suggesting that he understands how to complete these acts that will hold back Time’s fast fleeing foot and mitigate Time’s devastation of beauty. His gently hinting at answers allows the speaker to remain humble yet profound, as he poses his deep questions with their suggestive answers.

The Couplet: Power of the Written Word

O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

The speaker then seems to admit that nothing can keep Time from destroying love and beauty: he confesses, "O! none," but then immediately, he pulls back from this assertion by saying, "unless this miracle have might" (my emphasis added). And what "miracle" would that be? The power of his sonnets, of course: in his "black ink," he will continue to dramatize and to immortalize his love, and that love will continue to "shine bright," unfettered by Time's raging devastation.

Thus, the speaker has established the notion that a certain level of immortality can be achieved through his poetry. Because of such an important task, the speaker must soldier on, creating his little dramas that not only showcase his own brilliant cargo of knowledge but that also retains that knowledge through beautiful, enduring language. His art is is life and his life is his art. Those two sacred possessions keep him endeavoring to create his best works. As he continues to create, he continues to grow even more positive and even more spiritual on his path to transcendence.

The real ''Shakespeare"

The De Vere Society is  dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

The De Vere Society is dedicated to the proposition that the works of Shakespeare were written by Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford

Did Shakespeare Really Write Shakespeare? – Tom Regnier

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes