Sonnet 22 | Breakdown of Shakespeare's Sonnets
Sonnet 22 shakespeare

Sonnet 22

Written by on | Shakespeare

In sonnet 22, which is part of the fair youth phase of the sonnets, we see the poet acknowledge that the fair youth in fact is not some god like deity which seems to be what occurs in a lot of the sonnets particularly this early on. Rather they actually acknowledge that they will both eventually grow old, lose their beauty and eventually their lives. But does that mean they’ll lose their love for one another? Let’s have a closer look. 

Original Text of Sonnet 22

My glass shall not persuade me I am old
So long as youth and thou are of one date
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
Then look I death my days should expiate.
For all that beauty that doth cover thee
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me.
How can I then be elder than thou art?
O therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
As I, not for myself, but for thee will,
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.

Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Thou gav’st me thine not to give back again.

 

 

Translation

My mirror won’t convince me I am old
So long as youth and you are both the same
But when I see times wrinkles on your face
Then I will know that death is on it’s way
For all the beauty that does cover you
Is to my heart as clothing to my arms
Which is your chest does live and yours in mine
Then how can I be older than you are
Oh please then love take extra care of yourself
As I will, not for me but just for you
Holding your heart that I’ll protect as carefully
As nurses protect their babies from getting ill

Don’t expect your heart back after I’ve died
You gave me yours for the rest of our lives

 

 

Verse Breakdown

Bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
ABCDEFG = Rhyming Pattern
F = Feminine Ending

 

My glass shall not persuade me I am old A
So long as youth and thou are of one date; B
But when in thee time’s furrows I behold, A
Then look I death my days should expiate. B
For all that beauty that doth cover thee C
Is but the seemly raiment of my heart, D
Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me. C
How can I then be elder than thou art? D
O therefore, love, be of thyself so wary E (F)
As I, not for myself, but for thee will, F
Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary E (F)
As tender nurse her babe from faring ill. F

Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain; G
Thou gav’st me thine not to give back again. G

 

Thought Breakdown & Analysis

 

First Quatrain:

My glass shall not persuade me I am old
My mirror will never tell me I’m old.

We start with a kind of question? It’s a statement yes but it’s followed by the terms on which we’re going to strike a deal with the mirror. 

 

So long as youth and thou are of one date;
So long as you are youthful.

So this is the terms in which we’re agreeing with the mirror that it will never tell us we’re old. Really what’s happening here is the poet is saying I will never grow old so long as you stay young and beautiful forever.

 

But when in thee time’s furrows I behold,
But when I see that you have wrinkles.

So here we’re just reaffirming the argument made above. Another term. But this time we’re striking a deal with death.

 

Then look I death my days should expiate.
Then that’s when I’ll know that death is on it’s way to get me.

So as we saw above this is the terms on which death will be welcomed. If I see wrinkles on your face I know my time is up.

 

Second Quatrain:

 

For all that beauty that doth cover thee
All the beauty that covers you.

All the beauty that covers the fair youth. Which according to the poet is a lot.

 

Is but the seemly raiment of my heart,
Is to my heart as a garment is to the body.

So all the beauty the fair youth has is as close to the poets heart as clothing to the flesh. Essentially the poet is saying they hold the beauty so close to their heart that it’s enwraps it.

 

Which in thy breast doth live, as thine in me.
Which lives in your chest as yours does in mine.

They’re saying their heart lives in the fair youths chest as does the fair youths heart live in the poets chest.

 

How can I then be elder than thou art?
Then how can I be older than you?

So here we bring it all back to the beginning of the sonnet referring back to old age and the question of life and death. Shakespeare’s bread and butter.

 

Third Quatrain: The Turn

O therefore, love, be of thyself so wary
Then please love take extra care of yourself.

We’ve changed tact now. This is sort the of the crux of what we’re getting at. We’ve talked about the necessary lies the poet tells them self, the terms on which death will come and what the stakes are in all of this. That is: their hearts. Which we’re about to come back to in the couplet. Also it’s interesting to note we start the third quatrain with a feminine ending. This could indicate the poets hesitancy in changing from doting upon the fair youth to making a request. Particularly when the stakes are so high.

 

As I, not for myself, but for thee will,
As I will, but not for myself but for you.

The poets saying they’ll take care of them self too. But not for self preservation but to keep the fair youths heart safe.

 

Bearing thy heart, which I will keep so chary
Holding on to your heart which I will protect so carefully.

The poet again saying they’ll protect the fair youths heart carefully. But how carefully?

 

As tender nurse her babe from faring ill.
As tenderly as a nurse protects the baby she cares for from sickness.

So the poet has said they will protect the fair youths heart as carefully as a nurse protects a baby. So we have the image of birth so we’ve seen so far through the sonnet now: youth, middle age, death, and birth. Once again as in many of the sonnets we’ve been on a life’s journey before we even get to the couplet.

 

Rhyming Couplet:

Presume not on thy heart when mine is slain;
Don’t think you’re getting your heart back I’m dead.

The poet says to the youth that they shouldn’t expect to get their heart back. But why?

 

Thou gav’st me thine not to give back again.
You gave me yours forever, not to give it back again.

They gave each other’s hearts forever. Never to be returned. These are the stakes. These are the terms on which we’ve come to an agreement with death itself. That’s how strong their love is.

 

Unfamiliar Language

Glass (n.)
old form: glasse
mirror, looking-glass

 

Look (v.)
expect, anticipate, hope, await the time

 

Expiate (v.)
extinguish, bring to an end

 

Raiment (n.)
old form: rayment
clothing, clothes, dress

 

Chary (adv.)
carefully, dearly, with cherishing

 

Fare (v.)
go, happen, turn out

 

Ill (adv.)
badly, adversely, unfavourably

 

Presume on (v.)
take insufficiently into account, rely too readily o

 

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.

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