Study Guide

Sonnet 18 Time

By William Shakespeare


The speaker of Sonnet 18 is absolutely fixated on fate and mortality, but believes he’s come up with an effective time machine: poetry. Instead of contemplating a beautiful summer’s day, this speaker can’t stop thinking about how everything in life is temporary and fleeting. No need to fear, though – the hero-poet steps in and announces that, by artistically representing his beloved, he can save him or her from the ravages of time. "Time," then, is the intersection of the "Literature and Writing" theme and the "Man and the Natural World" theme. Man, in the natural world, can’t avoid being subject to time, but it is through literature, the poet argues, that he can free himself.

Questions About Time

  1. How does someone "grow" in "eternal lines to time" (12)? What’s up with that?
  2. Discuss the character of "Death" and how he impacts our reading of the poem as a whole. Specifically, what’s he doing bragging and why does the speaker choose this moment to bring up the Bible?
  3. The idea of borrowing shows up a couple times in the poem. How does borrowing affect the treatment of time in the poem?
  4. Why doesn’t the speaker mention the fact that summer begins around every year, instead of focusing only on its end?

Chew on This

Even while declaring the power of prose over nature, the speaker manages to maintain the appearance of a deterministic universe.

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