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Sonnet 60 Theme of Time

The thoughts offered by Sonnet 60's speaker on the subject of time can be boiled down to two basic points. First: we're all completely at the mercy of time. We are born, we grow, and we ultimately all die, thanks to Time. Second? Time has no pause button. It just keeps on ticking away, no matter how much we could freeze frame any number of moments. Of course, as the speaker reminds us in the final couplet, even though there's no pause button, some things—like poems—are so enduring that they can last through the centuries, as if in slow motion.

Questions About Time

  1. How does Shakespeare's use of "bad grammar" in the run-on sentence of quatrain 1 illustrate the speaker's perceptions of time? Can you point to any other moments in the poem when the speaker uses language in a certain way to act out the progression of time? 
  2. When the 20th-century poet Paul Celan translated Shakespeare's Sonnet 60 into German, he translated "minutes" as "Stunden"—the German word for "hours." How do you think the poem might be interpreted differently with "hours" in the place of "minutes"? 
  3. Why do you think Shakespeare chose to personify time in quatrain 3 and the final couplet?
  4. What does time have to do with love in this poem?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Shakespeare uses the word "minutes" instead of "hours" to focus our attention on the little moments of time that pass by without our noticing—but all those moments add up.

Shakespeare personifies Time in the poem because he wants his speaker to have someone to fight against—and you can't exactly fight against an impersonal force.

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