Shakespeare's sonnets are a collection of 154 poems. Sonnets 153 and 154 do not belong to the real collection because they are adaptations of classical antic verses about Cupid and therefore distinguished from the first 152 poems because Shakespeare treated the Patriarchal convention of the sonnets in his own way. Shakespeare treats these themes in his own, distinctive fashion—most notably by addressing the poems of love and praise not to a fair woman but instead to a young man; and by including a second subject of passion: a woman of questionable attractiveness and virtue.
The sonnets, taken together, are frequently described as a sequence, and this is generally divided into two sections.
Shakespeare Sonnets 1-126 focus on a handsome young man and the speaker's emotional friendship with him that could sometimes be interpreted either as asexual or sexual. The nature of this friendship is treated as ideal love as in the Patriarchal convention.
Sonnets 127-152 focus on the speaker's relationship with a woman the so-called ‘dark lady’ who is the counterpart of the innocent beautiful maid in Patriarchal sonnets. The lyrical I has an “obsessive”1 sexual love affair with her.
Shakespeare’s Sonnets have more than one motif. The young man is the object of praise and the woman becomes a beastly creature, a demon trying to take over a man’s soul. There is a “personal separation of ideal love and sexual lust.“2 Shakespeare's major themes of love and beauty, mutability and time and immortality are explored.3
When examining Shakespeare's sonnets, one comes to realize just how important life, love and the passage of time are. And they all have their own nature, the passage of time affects life in a way that it changes the physical appearance. Change is a major element that life and love both share. That is what Shakespeare wants to stress.
In this essay I compare the sonnets numbered 60 and 144 because the first one deals with the universal concerns of time and its passing, whereas the second takes note of the speaker’s personal experience with the separation of physical love and the more down-to-earth sensations connected with it. Moreover it is the only sonnet that explicitly refers to both the Dark Lady and the young man. These sonnets are neatly organized following the structure of the Shakespearean sonnet and its common rhyme scheme abab,cdcd,efef,gg with a iambic pentameter.
2. Sonnet 60
“The placement of the sonnet as sonnet 60 carries a special significance, for it identifies the sixty minutes of the hour.“4 Through the sonnet's number sequence the reader concludes that time is a main focus in the sonnet.
The first quatrain starts with a simile "Like as the waves..."5 which compares the passing waves to the minutes in our lives. These waves rush to the shore as each one replaces the other, just as the way a minute is replaced by the next. However time and the sea are thought to be endless whereas life has an ending. “Line four suggests that the tedious process these waves go though represents the hardness of life's journey. The word "toil"6 indicates the struggle of battle. Therefore, the waves are pictured as a marching army fighting for life and existence.“7 In the second quatrain the speaker changes his focus from the passing of time to the passing of human life. The sun is used to represent life. The first appearance of the sun in each day is linked to the youth. The word "crawl"8 suggests the slowness of the sun’s movement, for the years of youth seem to be enjoyably long.
The sun is also "crowned"9 with maturity which indicates the power and importance of this period of life because it refers to the stage of maturity in human life, and it shows that even though it is a stage where one might be dominant and powerful, it is quickly to be lost. The sun also maintain her power only for the time of the day and is confounded to the darkness which time brings.
"Crooked eclipses" in line seven “refer to the eclipses of the moon and sun“10, which are considered as dangerous and threatening events of nature. Time causes these crooked eclipses to enable the darkness to take over the light and at this stage, time destroys its gift.
The speaker links the two precedent ideas in the third quatrain as he talks about the impact of the passing time on the passing of human life. “The antithesis in lines 9 through 12 is between the aging poet and the youth’s good looks.“11 The poet warns, “Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth / And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow.” In other words, the young man currently is beautiful, but “parallels” (“wrinkles“)12 will appear.
1 Hühn, P. (1995). Geschichte der englischen Lyrik 1. Tübingen: A.Francke Verlag, 81.
2 Hühn, 83.
3 Senna, C. (2000). Shakespeare ´ s Sonnets. New York: Hungry Minds. Inc., 98.
4 Senna, 98.
5 Line 1
6 Line 4
7 vgl. Senna, 99.
8 Line 6.
10 Senna, 100.
11 Senna S. 100.
12 Abrams, M.H. [Ed.] (2000). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1034.