Have shaken the splendour of three summers from the foliage,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turn'd
Three wonderful springs have I seen turn to autumn
In process of the seasons have I seen,
In the course of the four seasons,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burn'd,
The perfumed scents of three Aprils burned up in three hot Junes,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.
Since first I saw you in all your youthful glory, and you are still young.
Ah, yet doth beauty, like a dial-hand,
Ah, but beauty still moves forward, like the hands of a clock,
Steal from his figure and no pace perceived;
Steal forward, with no motion to be observed.
So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth stand,
In this way your appearance, which seem to me unchanged,
Hath motion and mine eye may be deceived:
Is subject to Time's movement, and my eye may be deceived:
For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred;
Out of my fear that you will lose your looks, hear this, you unborn generations;
Ere you were born was beauty's summer dead.
Before you came into existence beauty was already dead.
hear this (13): 'Hear this' is a variation of 'hear ye', the cry that alerts the citizens to a public proclamation.
Before...dead (14): i.e., those unborn (in the womb) will never see beauty in its perfect form: that time when Beauty (his lover) was at his peak and flourishing (in his summer).
The theme of Sonnet 104, the passage and ravages of Time, is one common throughout all of the sonnets. Here the poet uses his fond memories of first meeting his lover as inspiration to write the poem. It is clear from Sonnet 104, and the other sonnets as a whole, that the passion he feels for his male lover (possibly the Earl of Southampton), is the most intense experience the poet has ever encountered. Nothing is important but his lover; his lover is eternal, both in beauty and spirit.
Many have tried to deduce the actual date of the sonnet's composition and the true identity of Shakespeare's lover by the reference to the 'three years' which the friendship spanned to this point. Some argue that this certainly places us in the summer of 1594, and the 'Aprils' and 'Junes' mentioned are of 1592, 1593, and 1594. For supporters of the notion that Southampton was the lover, he would have been eighteen when they met and twenty-one at the time Shakespeare wrote Sonnet 104. However, critics of this dating method are many, and they argue that the poet's use of 'three' years specifically may be simply a poetic convention (based on the significance of the number three in the Bible) and not a literal reference to the time he has spent with his lover.
Habicht, Werner. Shakespeare's Universe: Renaissance Ideas and Conventions. New York: Scolar Press, 1996.
Martin, Philip J. T. Shakespeare's Sonnets: Self, Love and Art. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1972.
Ransom, John Crowe. Shakespeare at Sonnets. Shakespeare, the Sonnets. Ed. Peter Jones. London: Macmillan Press, 1977. 107-8. 1924.
Shakespeare, William. The Works of Shakespeare. Ed. John Dover Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
How to Cite this Article
Mabillard, Amanda. An Analysis of Shakespeare's Sonnet 104. Shakespeare Online. 2000. (day/month/year you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/104detail.html >.