Sonnet 19 | Breakdown of Shakespeare's Sonnets
Shakespeare sonnet 19

Sonnet 19

Written by on | Shakespeare

In this sonnet in the fair youth phase we have an argument that is very clear and straightforward, but has some incredible imagery. The poet is making a plea to our character ‘Time’ to keep the fair youth beautiful forever. The poet tells time of all the things they’d rather time do. But reveals that should Time not honour this request that they have a cunning plan to thwart Time itself.

Original Text

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-liv’d 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 more heinous crime:
O, carve not with the 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.

Verse Breakdown

bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
ABCDEFG = Rhyming Pattern

First Quatrain:
Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws, A
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood; B
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws, A
And burn the long-liv’d Phoenix in her blood; B

Second Quatrain:
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets, C
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time, D
To the wide world and all her fading sweets; C
But I forbid thee one more heinous crime: D

Third Quatrain:
O, carve not with the hours my love’s fair brow, E
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen! F
Him in thy course untainted do allow E
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men. F

Rhyming Couplet:
Yet do thy worst, old Time! Despite thy wrong G
My love shall in my verse ever live young. G

Modern Translation

Devouring time, blunt the lion’s claws
And make the earth consume her own beautiful creatures;
Pluck the sharp teeth out of the fierce tigers jaws,
And burn the immortal phoenix in its own blood;
Bring happy and sad times as you pass by,
And do whatever you want, swift footed time
To the wide world and all her vanishing delights;
But I forbid you just one more heinous crime
Oh, do not carve wrinkles in my loves forehead with hours,
Or don’t draw lines there with your old pen!
Let him pass through time untainted,
To be beauty’s blueprint for future men.
But do your worst, old time! Because despite your wrongdoings
My love will stay young forever in my poetry

Throught Breakdown & Analysis

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
(Devouring Time, you can blunt the lions paws,)

We get straight to the point here. We start with a preposition to Time. Time has been capitalised intentionally to personify the idea of time itself. By doing this Shakespeare proposes that time has some control over it’s deed and attempts to propose that time has this sort of agency. This is not the only time that Shakespeare does this in the cannon, not only in the sonnets but throughout many of the plays as well.

And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
(And you can make the earth kill off all of her sweet creatures)

We begin to see the repetition that will become apparent throughout this sonnet, like so many throughout the sonnets.

Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
(Pluck the sharp teeth from the fierce tigers jaws,)

Another example of what the poet is willing to let earth do. The use of repetition gives example after example of the price the poet is willing to pay, and really helps to drive the point home.

And burn the long-liv’d Phoenix in her blood;
(And burn the immortal Phoenix in her own blood;)

Firstly, what an incredible image. The poet feels so strongly about this that they would let earth burn and thus kill an immortal being, the phoenix.

Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
(Bring sad and happy times as you pass by)

We’re in the second quatrain now. And we’ve changed pave ever so slightly, we’ve moved from giving specific examples of what the poet says that time can do to something quite general, and in a way that raises the stakes depending on how you look at it. Because what the pet is saying is…

And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
(And do whatever you want, swift-footed Time,

Do whatever you want, Time. I don’t care!

To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
(To the wide world and all of her vanishing delights)

You can do all these things I suggested, you can do whatever you want! You can see how in a way even though we’re using less brutal imagery we’re relinquishing control to Time.

But I forbid thee one more heinous crime:
(But I forbid you do just one thing)

BUT there is just one thing I forbid, I ask of you. We’re at the third quatrain now and the real turn. This is what all of these images have been driving towards.

O, carve not with the hours my love’s fair brow,
(Oh don’t carve wrinkles in my loves fair forehead)

This is what we’re getting to. As with many of the sonnets, the poet is willing to do a lot for the fair youth. To pay a very heavy price.

Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen!
(And don’t draw lines there with your old pen!)

More repetition. Don’t carve lines in my fair loves forehead nor draw lines there with your old pen.

Him in thy course untainted do allow
(Let him pass through time untainted)

So you can do all of this so long as you let my fair love pass through life untainted!

For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
(To be the blueprint of beauty for future men.)

Let him keep his beauty so that men in the future can know what true beauty is. For the fair youth is so beautiful that I would plead that you take the lion’s claws, the tiger’s teeth, the phoenix’s life and all the beautiful creatures of mother earth, just so that my love can keep his beauty.

Yet do thy worst, old Time! Despite thy wrong
(But do your worst, old Time! Because despite your wrongdoings)

Now we’re in the rhyming couplet and we change tactics again. However, even if Time will not listen to me, I have a plan.

My love shall in my verse ever live young.
(Because my love will stay forever young and beautiful in my poetry)

So Time, you can do all of these things, you can do whatever you want, so long as you grant my love safe passage through the ravages of time. But even if you do, I know that my love will stay young forever in my poetry.

Unfamiliar Language

sweet (n.)
sweetness, pleasure, delight

brow (n.)
forehead [often plural, referring to the two prominences of the forehead]

antic, antick(e), antique (adj.)
fantastic, bizarre, weird

untainted (adj.)
old form: vntainted
unblemished, unsullied, pure

allow (v.)
approve, sanction, encourage

course (n.)
habit, custom, practise, normal procedure

pattern (n.)
old form: patterne
picture, model, specimen, example

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × four =