We all know about the effects of time and how it ages people, takes away the beauty from everything, everyone. But Sonnet 60 by William Shakespeare, shows the effect of time in a much different way.
Also known as ‘Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore,’ the sonnet talks about the effects of time. The ravaging power of time is the central theme of almost all the sonnets written by the Bard of Avon.
What surprises us is that even if the poet is talking about time and its power, he manages to bring something new and fascinating from the same theme.
Let’s take a look at Sonnet 60 by William Shakespeare and then at the simplification, meaning, and analysis of the poem.
Sonnet 60 by William Shakespeare
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend. Nativity, once in the main of light, Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd, Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight, And Time that gave doth now his gift confound. Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth And delves the parallels in beauty's brow, Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth, And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow: And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand, Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
Simplification of Sonnet 60
Like the waves of water moving towards the pebbled shore
Each minute does the same, going toward their end
Every minute takes the place of the minute that passed
In a continuous struggle time keeps moving ahead
We are born and brought in light
But slowly we move towards old age, and the light is covered
by the eclipse of old age. It confuses people who fast time has passed
The youthful face of the youth now gets affected by time
As it creates wrinkles above the brow
Time takes away all the beauty in nature
Nothing can escape from Time
But I hope that all the verses that praise your worth
Remains alive, and escapes the effects of time.
Meaning of Sonnet 60
There is a lot to unpack here, as is the case with all the works by William Shakespeare. But despite being with so many complex metaphors and terms, the meaning of the poem is simple and impactful.
The reason why this poem’s simple message is so impactful is because of how it is delivered. Shakespeare makes the poem “humane” and then shows Time as a destroyer. Let’s take a look at the poem by dividing it into parts.
Nature of Time
The first stanza is about the nature of time, and how every single moment is passing us by. It shows that no matter what we do, there is no way to stop this passage.
Like as the waves make towards the pebbl’d shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end; Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Just as the waves keep on coming, each wave exactly the same as the previous one, each minute, each second passes into nothingness. These minutes come and they go away into the past.
Every minute seems to be rushing to take the place of the moment that passed, just like the waves do. Using the waves as a metaphor for passing time is brilliant.
Birth; Time’s Gift
The second stanza is about human life. Birth is a gift from time; it is the moment we start to experience time and live our lives.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
The moment we are born, we are brought into the light. But slowly age takes over, and we reach maturity. This growth is slow, which is why the poet uses the term “crawl” to maturity.
Like the morning, light starts off brilliantly, and then reaches the peak when it is overhead. This is what the poet meant with the term “crowned.” But then something else happens.
Soon after the crowning, an eclipse starts to devour the sun. The gift that time gave now confuses people. The gift starts to crumble, and the time comes to take it back.
Time as Destroyer
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
The third stanza talks about all the signs of aging that we start to see after our youth is on the verge of running out. The ‘flourishing’ youth now starts to change.
Instead of the glow and energy, time changes it and gives deep wrinkles. The glow goes away and the youth fades in old age. But not just us, but everything succumbs to the scythe of time.
Shakespeare says that even the natural beauties, and in fact, everything that stands gets ‘mowed’ by the scythe of the Grim Reaper. Time takes away everything; beauty, memories, youth, everything.
The final couplets then deliver the message of the sonnet; what the poet wanted to convey.
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.
In a beautiful way, Shakespeare hopes that all the lines and verses he has written for the praise of this person stays, immune from the effects of time.
Saying just that would have never made the impact that it made after we get to know the effects of time.
Summary and Essence of Sonnet 60
Summarizing it all and condensing the meaning of the sonnet; Shakespeare is saying that he wishes and hopes that the lines he has written for the praise of this person (perhaps the young man who has been the subject of many of his poems) remain alive.
He wishes that these verses somehow manage to escape the scythe of Time so that in some way, this person also remains alive in thoughts. And it actually happened. Even after years, the words have kept that person alive.