Theme of Time and Love in Shakespeare’s Sonnet
The classical concept that the verse preserves, against the ravages of time, the love that it commemorates is, perhaps, nowhere so happily manifested, as in Shakespeare’s sonnets. Indeed, Shakespeare’s sonnets, particularly those which are addressed to a young man of a rather controversial identity, are inspiring efforts to immortalize the glory of love in a mortal world which is constantly threatened with the wrecks of time. With utmost poetic earnestness, he brings out in such sonnets the conflict between the invincible power of time and the unchanging devotion to love and vindicates the power of his art to stand against the blow of time. The sonnets, in fact, are inspired with the fervor of a lofty idealism of love that seeks and finds an enduring consolation in the work of art in a world where time is omnipotent.
Shakespeare’s sonnets are certainly philosophic and idealistic. But they are quite free from any undue metaphysical abstraction or speculation. While admitting the impregnable strength of time, the poet asserts the noble zeal of love and the power of his verse to immortalize the same. There is, indeed, in his sonnets a distinct and highly impressive theme of the conflict between time and love. .
Of course, there is not much of the categorical defiance or vaunting on the part of the poet, in his treatment of the power of time. Some of his finest sonnets rather frankly admit the power of time to end all worldly things, including natural objects. The sonnet Shall I compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18) may be cited as an instance here. The poet here is frank in his admission how time wrecks different natural elements. The “darling buds of May” are shaken, whereas “summer’s lease hath all too short a date”. The “gold complexion” of the sun even dims and “every fair from fair sometimes declines.”
The power of time is also emphasized in the other sonnet Let me not to the Marriage of True Minds (Sonnet 116). Here again, the poet shows how time kills “rosy lips and checks.” In fact, there is no effort by the poet to deny the grim fact that time decays all things, natural elements as well as human beauty.
The sonnet ‘When I have seen‘ (Sonnet 64), deals specifically with this theme of time and love. The poet is found here painfully conscious of the power of time to wreck all mortal glories as well as physical elements. He is even sadly certain of the power of time to take away his love. He does not defy here the ‘fell hand’ of time, but rather yields himself to the same in a plaintive mood-
“Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.”
There is noted the same pensive reflection on the power of time in the next sonnet- “Since brass, nor stone, ” (Sonnet 65). The poet admits here, too, rather poignantly the ruinous effect of time on all- ‘rocks impregnable’, the gates of steel and the ‘beauty’ of man.
Another sonnet ‘Like as the waves‘ (Sonnet 60) is also resonant with the poet’s representation of the devastating power of time to change the phenomenal world and the human beauty. Time moves on ceaselessly and presses down ruthlessly under its chariot wheels, all that constitutes the glory of the world and the beauty of humanity. The cruel hand of time allows nothing to stand against ‘his scythe to mow.’ The poet’s description of the ravages done by time is precise and poignant
“Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow;
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow.”
The ravage caused by time is also felt by the poet in his personal life. He perceives how time has played on him and anticipates aptly in the sonnet That time of year thou mayst in me behold (Sonnet 73) the decay that it will bring to him ere long. The poet draws several images to show the decadence which is to overpower him under the mighty blow of time. He is quite apprehensive of what time will work upon him ere long
“Death’s second self that seals up all in rest.”
Yet, Shakespeare’s sonnet is not merely the useless mourning over that which cannot be averted Time is no doubt mighty and merciless and takes away all that humanity loves and values. Yet, the poet does not give way to silly despair, but feels emboldened by the thought of love that sustains and raises his spirit. He feels the elevating influence of love that guides and comforts the distressed heart in a ruinous world.
The poet is quite assured that love is not a slave to time-“Love’s not Time’s fool.” It “alters not with his brief hours and weeks” but bears it out even to “the edge of doom.” The sonnet Let me not to the marriage of true minds (Sonnet 116), is an idealistic assertion of the triumph of love over the destructive power of time.
In the sonnet That time of year thou mayst in me behold (Sonnet 73), again, the poet refers to the restorative and inspiring force of love amid the destructive furies of time. Amid the sense of his decay, the poet feels consoled with the inspiring thought of his love. The very idea that his decay will lead his friend to love him more has a consolatory and encouraging effect on him.
The poet’s belief in the force of love against the ‘wreckful siege of time’ is struck more distinctly in the sonnet Shall I Compare Thee to A Summer’s Day (Sonnet 18). The profundity of his love inspires in him the thought that his love will not be subjected to the destructive power of time
“But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st.”
Of course, this inspiration of the poet has its potency in his faith in the power of his verse to preserve his love. He hopes to immortalize his love in a mortal world by means of his great art and feels ensured that his friend will ever live in his great lines:
“When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
The triumphant concluding couplet of the sonnet ‘Like As The Waves’ (Sonnet 60) too, the poet’s enlivening faith that his verse of love shall withstand the decay of time.
“And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.”
Shakespeare, thus, equates time and love through his verse. Time is invincible, destructive, yet love is strong enough to withstand its ravages and even triumphs over it. The poet’s verse celebrating his love establishes ultimately how love shines in a mortal world through the great gift of his art.