Sonnet 65 by William Shakespeare
Sonnet 65, “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea” by William Shakespeare presents the ravages of time. It has, however, the inspiring note of the effective power of the poet’s art to immortalize his love.
Summary of Sonnet 65
Lines 1-4 :
Since sad mortality oversways the power of brass, stone, earth and the boundless sea, how shall beauty, whose action is no stronger than that of a flower, hold a plea with this rage (of time)?
Lines 5-8 :
When impregnable rocks are not so stout or steel gates not so strong to resist and time decays them, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out against the wreckful siege of battering days?
I. The decay caused by time:
(a) Nothing of brass or stone, neither earth nor the vast sea is spared from the inevitable decay that time causes. Hence beauty, with its tender function, has no chance of survival. (First quatrain)
(b) Strong rocks and steel gates are swept away by time. Sweet and lovely things cannot, therefore, survive against the flow of time. (Second quatrain)
Lines 9-12 :
This is a fearful meditation. Alack, where shall time’s best jewel lie hidden from Time’s chest? After all, what strong hand can hold back his (Time’s) swift foot or who can forbid his spoil of beauty?
II. The poet’s sad feeling:
The poet feels sad with the thought of the invincible destruction caused by time. There is no power to stop the march of time or withstand its destructive designs. (Third quatrain)
Lines 13-14 :
Nothing can do so, unless this miracle, that in black ink my love may shine bright, has might.
III. The poet’s consolation:
The poet is, however, consoled by his confidence in the enduring effect of his verse to preserve his love in time-ridden world.
Sonnet 65 Theme
The theme of the sonnet (No. 65) Since brass, or stone, nor earth is a continuation of that of the previous sonnet (No. 64)- When I have seen by Times fell hand defac’d. In the like manner, this also relates the invincible power of time to efface all earthly elements and material objects. The solid earth, the vast sea and the impregnable rock are all made to decay under the corrosive effect of time. The statue of brass, the walls of stone and the gates of steel are all, too, subjected to the destructive fury of time. The poet, in fact, dwells here, as in the previous sonnet, on the rage of time that spares none. He feels sadly that tender beauty (which is his friend) has no chance of survival against such a mighty onslaught of time. He admits, of course in a pensive mood, that there is no power to stop the swift march of time and resist its cruel hand from taking away what is so lovely and endearing. In the conclusion of the sonnet, unlike what is seen in the previous sonnet, the poet is enlivened with a sweet hope that his verse (written in praise of his love) may have the miraculous power to perpetuate his love against the wreck of time, and shine eternally amid the transience of all.
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Sonnet 65 Line by Line Analysis
Lines 1-4 :
Since brass…..etc. – The strain of the thought of the previous poem is continued here. The poet reflects on the mortality of all physical elements and the dreadful ravages which time causes, Cf. Sonnet no. 64– the first eight lines. Brass– brass-made statues or like things. Stone– stone walls. Earth– solid land. Boundless sea-the sea without any limit of fathom or range. Sad-painful. That which rouses a sense of frustration. Mortality-death, destruction. O’ersways-fully eliminates. Since brass….power-every earthly element the statue of brass, the tower of stone, the solid land, or the fathomless sea-is subject to mortality. Inevitable destruction awaits all. This is caused by time. The corrosive effect of time is here emphasized.
N.B. The beginning of the sonnet, as in the previous one (Sonnet No. 64), is full of pensive reflections. The poet muses on the inevitable destructibility of all things under the sway of time.
How– in what way. With-against, This rage-the destructive fury of time. Beauty-human beauty. Hold a plea-make good a defense, argue for preservation. How with….a plea-in what way can beauty defend itself against the destructive fury of time? The poet points out the utter helplessness of human beauty in the face of the all-pervasive consuming rage of time. If time is so mighty and so destructive, human beauty, so frail, so tender, cannot survive. Cf. Sonnet No. 63.
“Against my love shall be as I am now,
With Time’s injurious hand crush’d and o’erworn:
When hours have draind his blood and fill d his brow.
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travail’d on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanish’d out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring”
Action– strength, capacity. Action is… flower– the power of beauty is nothing more than that of a flower. Beauty gives delight just as the flower does. It is as frail and transitory as the flower that fades soon. The metaphorical expression is quite appropriate.
Summer’s honey- honey formed within the flowers during the season of summer. This refers symbolically to the sweetness of life. Hold out– sustain itself. How shall…out– how can it be possible for the honey-heavy flower of summer to survive long ? The tender flower, heavy with honey, can hardly stand for long. Wreckful– destructive Siege-besiege. Battering days – time when the bees surround thickly the buds as well as flowers to gather honey. The imagery is here well conceived. ‘Battering days are impliedly compared to the destructive effect of time.
N.B. “It is hard to say which is finer in this line-the splendid vividness of the imagery or the perfect echo which the sound gives to the sense : each metrical beat is like the heavy thud of a battering ram.” (Fowler)
Indeed, thought and art, picture and music, are here all grandly conceived, synthesized and presented.
Rocks impregnable– hard rocks which cannot be pierced. Stout – strong. Gates of steel-gates made of iron. So strong-sufficiently strong as to resist. Rocks impregnable…..steel-the poet refers to hard elements. Time decays-time causes them to decay: in course of time, they all decay. The corrosive effects of time are all on impregnable rocks and the gates of steel.
N.B. The poet speaks here of the invincible power of time that destroys all and triumphs over all. Hard, solid rocks and strongly built iron-gates are all worn out and consumed by time. There is nothing in the physical world to stand against the onslaught of time. Time decays all ruthlessly, spares none.
Lines 9-12 :
Fearful meditation– the very thought is sad and awful. It fills the mind of the poet with deep despair. Cf. Sonnet No. 64.
“This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.”
N.B. The poet is haunted here, as in the previous sonnet, with the thought of sadness.
Where– in what place. Alack– the poet is overpowered with a feeling of despair. ‘Alack’ is an interjectional expression. This figure is exclamation. Times best jewel-the best gift which time has brought. The poet is here not particularly referring to his friend, but to all that is gallant and graceful in the world. Time chest-time is supposed to keep up past treasures in its chest. The imagery is, no doubt, a bit intricate, but it is quite forceful and impressive. A like imagery is found in Sonnet No. 52
“So is the time that keeps you as my chest.”
Of course, the imagery in the present sonnet is more vivid and pointed. The precision as well as sharpness of the Shakespearean imagery is well evident here.
Lie hid-kept hidden or concealed. Times best…… lie hid– all the best things which time has given, are taken away by it, and there is no way to keep its gifts out of its own store for long. “Chest -may be taken to mean the coffin that time has for all lovely things. In that sense mortality caused by time, is also suggested.
N.B. The image of a jewel in a chest is quite common in Shakespeare. It appears, besides the Sonnet No. 52 (mentioned already), in the Sonnet No. 48
“Thee have I not lock’d up in any chest”-
and in Henry VI Part II
“A jewel, locked into the woefull’st cask
That ever did contain a thing of worth”
as also in Richard II and King John.
What strong hand-what mighty power. Hold– arrest, stop. Swift fool back-quick movement; swift march. What strong…..back-there is no power to arrest the fleeting course of time. Time, the old gipsy, stops nowhere, and ever moves onwards. Nothing is there to stop its onward march. Spoil of beauty-ravages upon beauty. Forbid– prevent. Who his…forbid– there is no one to prevent time from its ravages upon beauty
N.B. The poet’s tone is definitely pessimistic (as in the sonnet No. 64)
Lines 13-14 :
Oh none-there is no power or person to do the same. The tone of the poet is tinged with despair. This miracle– the wonderful power of his verse. Have might have the enduring strength. In black ink– i. e., in verse. My love….bright-the poet’s love remains eternal and radiant. After depression comes hope. The poet’s sad heart is enlivened with his belief in the power of his verse to preserve his love.
N.B. The conceit in the last line may appear rather monotonous to a modern reader. But it is quite characteristic of Elizabethan poetry. Cf. Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella
“When Nature made her chief work-Stella’s eyes
In colour black black why wrapt the beams so bright.”
“Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?”
These lines, extracted from Shakespeare’s (No. 65) (Since brass, nor stone….), recount the inevitable mortality of all physical elements and human glories. The poet’s sad admission of the invincible power of time is here presented vividly.
All things are subjected to mortality. Utter destruction awaits equally-the mighty statue of bronze, the strong wall of stone, the solid surface of earth and the endless expanse of the sea. Time does havoc with all of them and sets at naught all their strength and force. If the wrecks caused by time are so severe and irresistible, there can hardly be any prospect for the frail beauty of man to survive. After all, human beauty has no greater power than a fragrant flower. It has nothing to defend itself from the consuming rage of an unsparing time.
The expression is a characteristic representation of the time-love theme of Shakespearean sonnets. The poet’s tone here is both reflective and pensive. The cruel ravages of time fill his mind with depression, and he laments for the quick decay of human beauty and glory.
“O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?”
This is the second quatrain of Shakespeare’s celebrated sonnet. (No. 65) Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea. The poet has already admitted the ‘sad mortality’ of all the strong materials or earthly elements-brass’, ‘stone’, ‘earth’ and the ‘boundless sea’-under the impact of time. He reflects further here on the destructive power of time against which nothing remains ‘impregnable’ or ‘stout’.
Time is all powerful and irresistible. Nothing can stand for long against its heavy onslaught. The poet introduces the imagery of honey stored in a lovely flower of the summer season. This cannot sustain itself long under the continuous pressure of the bees that surround and strike it thickly to gather honey. Honey is taken away and the flower fades. This is the fate of all fair things in the world where time is omnipotent. But this is not all. Even the apparently stout, impregnable matters are subjected to the corrosive effect of time. The hard rocks that seem impregnable decay. The strong gates, made of steel, too, break down under the blow of time. Nothing indeed, stands and dominates and destroys all.
The quatrain contains the poet’s pensive admission the destructive effects of time. It echoes one aspect of the Shakespearean time-love theme that emphasizes the power of time. The decay caused by time is well brought out through the precise imagery of “rocks impregnable’ and ‘gates of steel.’ The poet’s tone is, of course. pensive. The personification of time is well conceived.
“Of fearful meditation ! where, alack.—
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
Of none, unless this miracle have migtht-
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.”
This forms concluding portion of Shakespeare’s sonnet (No. 65) Since brass nor stone…….” The poet refers to the destructive power of time and hopes for the survival of his love through the perpetuation of the same by his verse.
The poet is fully aware of the insensible power of time to destroy all earthly things and mortal glories. Time consumes all, and nothing can be preserved against its terrible onslaught. This thought of the ravages of time fills the poet’s mind with sad and painful thoughts. He laments for the utter impossibility for man to restrain the devouring rage of time. The best things, which have come in course of time, cannot be preserved for long from the touch of decay and destruction. Whatever gifts time may give, find their end also under the sweeping march of time. Time never stops. There is no power, no strong force, to hold its fleeting feet. At the same time, nothing can protect beauty against its dreadful ravages. The poet frankly admits the invincible power of time to take away and annihilate the boast of creation, the pomp of possession and the show of beauty. He, however, reposes on one hope to find consolation for his depressed heart. He believes, with a doubtful joy, that his verse in praise of his love may shine against the dreadful doom, caused by time. The poet cherishes in his heart of hearts the hope that his poetry will preserve the memory of his friend amid the cruel havoc of time.
The lines powerfully bring out the reaction of the poet’s mind to the ravages of time. They are also inspired with his genuine devotion of his friend and sacred belief in the immortality of his verse. The lines, in fact, reveal Shakespeare’s characteristic approach to time and love and his own art.
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