Sonnet 19

Shakespeare. Sonnet 1

«Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood».

In Sonnet 19, the poet addresses Time and, using vivid animal imagery, comments on Time’s normal effects on nature. The poet then commands Time not to age the young man and ends by boldly asserting that the poet’s own creative talent will make the youth permanently young and beautiful. However uninspired the sonnet as a whole might seem, the imagery of animals is particularly vivid.

Sonnet 19
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Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

»»» Sonnets introduction
»»» Sonnets complete list

The sonnet’s first seven lines address the ravages of nature that “Devouring Time” can wreak. Then, in line 8, the poet inserts the counter-statement, one line earlier than usual: “But I forbid thee one most heinous crime.” The poet wants time to leave the young man’s beauty untouched. Note that the word “lines” in line 10 unquestionably means wrinkles; in the previous sonnet, “lines” had at least three possible meanings.

Although the poet begs time not to ravish the young man’s beauty, to leave it “untainted” as an example of perfection (“beauty’s pattern”) upon which all can gaze, the concluding couplet, especially line 13’s beginning “Yet,” underscores the poet’s insecurity of what he asks for. However, nature’s threatening the youth’s beauty does not matter, for the poet confidently asserts that the youth will gain immortality as the subject of the sonnets. Because poetry, according to the poet, is eternal, it only stands to reason that his poetry about the young man will ensure the youth’s immortality. The youth as the physical subject of the sonnets will age and eventually die, but in the sonnets themselves he will remain young and beautiful.

««« Sonnet 18
»»» Sonnet 20


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