Sonnet 65 Breakdown | Shakespeare's Sonnets
sonnet 65

Sonnet 65

Written by on | Shakespeare

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps itself into almost every work that Shakespeare’s quill comes into contact with. Once again in this sonnet, Shakespeares is pondering the passage of time and the inevitable capital it holds over us mere mortals, and more specifically in this sonnet, over our beauty. In this sonnet, Shakespeare is lamenting what the passage of time will do to the beauty of the young man, and what the poet can do to stop it.

Sonnet 65 (Original Text)

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?
O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
O 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 or beauty can forbid?
O none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

 

Verse Breakdown

Bold = Stressed
Unbold = Unstressed
ABCDEFG = Rhyming Pattern

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea, A
But sad mortality o’ersways their power, B
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, A
Whose action is no stronger than a flower? B
O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out C
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days, D
When rocks impregnable are not so stout, C
Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays? D
O fearful meditation! Where, alack, E
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? F
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? E
Or who his spoil or beauty can forbid? F
  O none, unless this miracle have might, G
        That in black ink my love may still shine bright. G

 

Modern Translation

Since brass, and stone, and earth, and the infinite sea
Isn’t powerful enough to resist the power of mortality
How will your beauty fight off this rage
Whose strength is equal to a flower
Oh how will your beauty, like summers sweet air hold out
Against the decimating tactics of time itself
When even rocks which are impossible to break into
Or gates made of steel are too weak to resist its power
Oh what a scary thing to think about where
Can i hid times most beautiful creation, your beauty, from time itself
Whos hand is strong enough to hold back time
Or who can forbid time from destroying your beauty
No one, unless this miracle proves true
That in my writing my love will still shine brightly for you

Thought Breakdown & Analysis

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
Since brass or, stone, or earth, or the boundless sea.
We start with immensely strong imagery. Since these almost unbreakable things

But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
Isn’t strong enough to not be overpowered by mortality.
Or in other words: Even these things thought to be almost invincible will still succumb to time

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
How will beauty stand a chance against it?
How is beauty going to be able fight time when even these strong things can’t.

Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
Your beauty is as strong as a flower.
P.S this isn’t very strong. How will your beauty hold a candle to this invincible force when even these things can’t?

O how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Oh how will the sweet breath of summer hold up.

Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
Against the destructive siege of battering time.
How will your beauty which is no stronger than a flower, how will your beauty which is like the sweet summer air hold out against the batterings of time.

When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
When impenetrable rocks are not strong enough

Nor gates of steel so strong but time decays?
Or gates of steel are not strong enough to withstand the ravages of time.
Okay so the first eight lines of the sonnet are all along the same thought line. Time and tide wait for no human. Even something as strong as steel, as strong as the earth itself will one day whither away and die. So how on earth will your beauty stand the test? This is the question. Now let’s answer it.

O fearful meditation! Where, alack,
Scary stuff to think about! Where abouts. We’re turning in the argument now and are about to explore our avenues.

Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Shall times most majestic creation hide from time itself? We’re exploring ideas about what we can do about our problem.

Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Whose hand is strong enough to hold back time? Another potential answer to the question posed.

Or who his spoil or beauty can forbid?
Or who can forbid this crime? Another option

  O none, unless this miracle have might,
No one, unless this miracle works. And now we come to the answer. No one can do these things I’ve asked unless…

  That in black ink my love may still shine bright.
That in my writing my love, you, the young man, the beauty I’ve talked about may still shine bright and stay beautiful forever. And here’s our answer. No one can do this but me, the poet, with my writing. And through my writing you might just stay beautiful forever.

Unfamiliar Language

Oversway (v.)
old form: ore-swaies
prevail upon, override, overturn

Sad (adj.)
serious, grave, solemn

Wrackful (adj.)
old form: wrackfull
destructive, devastating, damaging

Siege (n.)
old form: siedge
onslaught, storm, assail

Spoil (n.)
old form: spoile
plundering, pillaging, despoiling

Still (adv.)
constantly, always, continually

Read more: Shakespeare’s Best Sonnets

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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