But wherefore do not you a mightier way
Make war upon this bloody tyrant, Time?
And fortify yourself in your decay
With means more blessed than my barren rhyme?
Now stand you on the top of happy hours;
And many maiden gardens, yet unset
With virtuous wish would bear your living flowers,
Much liker than your painted counterfeit:
So should the lines of life that life repair,
Which this (Time's pencil, or my pupil pen),
Neither in inward worth nor outward fair,
Can make you live yourself in eyes of men.
To give away yourself keeps yourself still,
And you must live, drawn by your own sweet skill.
XVI. But Mr. W. H., in his children, can give a far more perfect
record of his excellences than the poet can possibly make in his
Sonnets. The living portrayal which may thus be drawn surpasses
every written record, and the "counterfeit painted by the hand of
2. This bloody tyrant, Time. Similarly in V. 3 the Hours are spoken of
as "playing the tyrants."
5. On the top of happy hours. In the perfection of joyous youth, which
can last but a brief space.
6. Maiden gardens. A slight variation from the agricultural imagery of
9. The lines of life, &c. I was inclined to take these words as referring
to the wrinkles on the brow of advancing life (cf. XIX. 10), and to suppose
the meaning to be, that declining age is compensated for by the growing
beauty and maturing perfection of children. But, having regard to the
general drift of the Sonnet, to the "painted counterfeit" of line 8, and to
the words "You must live, drawn by your own sweet skill" (14), I now
assent to the interpretation of the "lines of life" as children in whom
Mr. W. H. is supposed to have himself portrayed his mental and bodily
10. Time's pencil. Dr. Furnivall has suggested that this expression is
used generally of such written records of the time as may refer to Mr. W. H.
This view seems to me correct; and it is well worthy of note that in the
Quarto, which, in this particular, I have followed, the words "Time's
pencil or my pupil pen" are bracketed together. The record of "Time's
pencil" would thus be of a similar kind to that made by the poet's "pupil
pen." A reason may also thus be assigned for the use of the word "pupil"
as implying that the record in these Sonnets was subordinate to the general record or chronicle of the period. This, in "this (Time's pencil, or my
pupil pen)," may be taken as meaning "any written record of this kind," whether by "Time's pencil," &c.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Ed. Thomas Tyler. London: D. Nutt, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/16.html >.
Did You Know? ... "In the sixteenth century the popularity of Seneca's tragedies was immense. To English dramatists, struggling to impose form and order on the shapeless, though vigorous, native drama, Seneca seemed to offer an admirable model. His tragedies contained abundance of melodrama to suit the popular taste, whilst his sententious philosophy and moral maxims appealed to the more learned, and all was arranged in a clear-cut form, of which the principle of construction was easy to grasp." E. M. Spearing. Read on....