Man and the Natural World Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend. (1-4)
On the surface, the simile in these lines is just comparing "waves" to "minutes." But notice that Shakespeare says "our minutes." So, he is actually comparing the minutes as experienced by human beings to the passage of waves toward the shore. The connection this draws between humans and nature is disturbing—but mainly because of the differences between humans and nature. Think about it: the sea can just keep sending waves over and over again toward the shore. If the waves get destroyed each time, it doesn't matter: the sea always has more. Humans, however, only have a limited number of minutes in their lives before they die. In these lines, Shakespeare is being extremely sneaky. He compares one thing to another, but the similarity between the two things mainly serves to reveal the underlying differences—and it's the differences that are the real heart of the problem.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned, (5-6)
In these lines, the birth and development of a child is compared to the rising of the sun. So human life is natural, recurring, and, like the sun, brings joy and warmth to those who see it. For a while, at least.
Crookèd eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
And time that gave doth now his gift confound. (7-8)
How quickly things change—and in very strange ways. If you were going to compare human life to the sun, you would probably start off just the same way Shakespeare does—by describing birth and maturation as like the rising of the sun. And then you would probably describe old age and death as the gradual setting of the sun through afternoon and evening, until it finally disappears below the horizon. Right? But Shakespeare doesn't do that. Instead of having the sun set, it gets blotted out by "Crookèd eclipses," something extremely rare in nature. From the perspective of the Elizabethans, "eclipses" could even be thought of as bordering on being unnatural, and frankly terrifying. We're betting that's kind of the point: Shakespeare wants us to feel outraged at what time does to people, and it's a lot harder to feel outraged if you accept it as a natural process. The more he can portray time as unnatural, the more the reader is going to join with the speaker of the poem in trying to fight time, tooth and nail (and verse).