Life Struggling Against Death in Shakespeare's Sixtieth Sonnet (Sonnet 60)

Life Struggling Against Death in Shakespeare's Sixtieth Sonnet (Sonnet 60)

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Life Struggling Against Death in Shakespeare's Sixtieth Sonnet (Sonnet 60)


Shakespeare's sixtieth sonnet is probably addressed to the same young, male friend to whom most or all of the earlier sonnets are said to be addressed. The sonnet does not specify this, however, so it could be to anyone or everyone. The theme is certainly universal; time steals human life away, but poetry is immortal. The poet uses diction and imagery to paint a picture of life struggling against death and losing.

            The speaker of the sonnet tells the audience in the first quatrain that human life is fleeting. He or she refers to life as "our minutes" (813). This is a twist on the traditional expression "our days." The use of "minutes" in place of "days" makes life seem even shorter and gives the poem a sense of urgency. The speaker uses wave imagery to show the audience that life is rushing: "Like as the waves make toward the pibbled shore,/ So do our minutes hasten to their end" (813). The wave is a very appropriate symbol for life. First it is nonexistent, then it becomes a small groove on the water, then it swells to greatness. As it grows in size, it speeds up, as life seems to speed up as people grow older.

            The speaker says that the minutes of life are "Each changing place with that which goes before,/ In sequent toil all forwards do contend" (813). The speaker treats the minutes of life without glamour. The minutes, like the waves, pass in the same way as those that wint before them. The speaker uses the word "toil" to imply that life is drudgery. The wave, even when swollen to its zenith acts in an imitative and monotonous way. Then it begins to shrink more quickly than it grew, finally dissipating as it crashes o...


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...d nothing stands but for his scythe to mow," but in the next line says that the "verse shall stand" (813). The speaker also implies that the poetry might be written more in spite of Time than in praise of the audience. "The worth" of the audience is mentioned only once, while the mighty enemy, Time, is the focus. The victor over Time is the verse.

            The speaker of the poem tells the audience that he or she should be flattered that they were chosen as the subject of the speaker's poetry. The speaker convinces the audience that life is weak and Time is strong, but the speaker's poetry is stronger still. Perhaps the speaker felt that the audience was not appreciative enough of some previous efforts at immortalizing him or her in verse! For whatever reason, the speaker of Sonnet Sixty gives the audience a profound example of the importance of poetry.

 

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