Devouring Time, you make the lion's claws grow blunt,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
And make the earth destroy those things she created;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,
Cause even the fierce tiger to lose its teeth,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
And burn the long-lived phoenix while she is still in the prime of life;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet'st,
[Time], make happy and sad seasons as you pass by,
And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
And do whatever you want, swift Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
To the wide world and all nature's fading beauty;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
But I forbid you to do one thing;
O, carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,
O, you must not make your mark on my lover's brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Nor draw no lines upon his brow with your antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
Allow him to remain untainted [youthful] as you run your course
For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.
And remain the very ideal of beauty for future generations to admire.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
Yet, do your worst, old Time: despite your ravages,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
My lover shall be young forever in my poetry.
brood (2): children.
keen (3): sharp.
phoenix (4): The Phoenix, the mythological eagle-like bird associated with Egyptian sun-worship, had a life span of more than 500 years. When its first life was over, the bird would burn itself upon a pile of wood that was set ablaze by the sun. It would then rise from the ashes, once again young. Here Shakespeare is saying that, despite the Phoenix's ability to resurrect itself, it cannot escape Time forever. 'In her blood' was a Renaissance term for 'full of life' or 'in one's prime of life.'
fleet'st (5): fly by.
sweets (6): (1) pleasures; (2) the 'brood' of line 2. On the seemingly imperfect rhyme with fleet'st, Alden quotes Abbott: "In verbs ending with -t, -test final in the second person singular often becomes -ts for euphony. (Cf. "thou torments," R.2. IV. i., 270; "revisits," Hamlet, I. iv, 53; etc) ... This termination in -s contains perhaps a trace of the influence of the northern infection in -s for the second person singular" (52).
The theme of Sonnet 19, as with so many of the early sonnets, is the ravages of time. The poet expresses his intense fear of time primarily in the sonnets that involve his male lover, and his worries seem to disappear in the later sonnets that are dedicated to his 'dark lady.' Specifically, the poet is mortified by the thought of his lover showing physical signs of aging. There is no doubt that his relationship with his male lover is one built upon lust - more so than his relationship with his mistress, which is based on love and mutual understanding.
Sonnets 18-25 are often discussed as a group, as they all focus on the poet's affection for his friend.
For more on the theme of fading beauty, please see Sonnet 116.
How to cite this article: Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 19. Ed. Amanda Mabillard. Shakespeare Online. 12 Nov. 2008. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/19detail.html >.
Shakespeare, William. Sonnets, from the quarto of 1609, with variorum readings and commentary. Ed. Raymond MacDonald Alden. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.
Wright, George Thaddeus. Shakespeare's Metrical Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
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