Study Guide

Sonnet 60 Quotes

By William Shakespeare

  • Time

    Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
    So do our minutes hasten to their end, (1-2)

    The speaker begins the poem by calling our attention to the passage of time, and how everything that happens must… stop happening at some point or another. This idea is doubly emphasized, both by the word "end" in line 2, but also more concretely in the image of the "pebbled shore" where the waves crash and shatter at the end of their long march toward land.

    Each changing place with that which goes before, In sequent toil all forwards do contend. (3-4)

    Here, in the next two lines of the poem, the speaker brings in another idea: that time only flows (so to speak) in one direction. This idea becomes especially powerful in line 4, with its emphasis on the hard work ("toil") and struggle ("do contend") involved as the waves—and minutes—make their way relentlessly forward. We'd almost feel sorry for time, if it weren't messing with our youthful beauty.

    Nativity, once in the main of light,
    Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown'd,
    Crookèd eclipses 'gainst his glory fight, (5-7)

    In the middle of Line 6, everything turns on a dime—or rather, turns on the word "wherewith." By taking us from the glory of the sun to its downfall so swiftly in the middle of a line, Shakespeare reminds us of that notion of the waves "each changing place with that which goes before" from Line 3. Things can change in the blink of an eye, Shmoopers. It's best to keep that in mind.

    And time that gave doth now his gift confound. (7-8)

    As we've talked about elsewhere in this module, this line contains a Biblical echo of Job 1:21. By deleting the reference to the Lord and making the phrase about time, Shakespeare takes away the religious context and replaces it with a naturalistic one. In the process, you could say that he takes away all hope of an afterlife waiting at the end of time. Still, Shakespeare's speaker is willing to give time credit for being the one who "gave." This won't last for long, though, so stay tuned.

    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. (9-12)

    Shakespeare's speaker is no longer giving time any credit—except for destructive power, that is. Now he thinks that absolutely everything—well, everything that "stands" at least—will be destroyed by time. Gee, aren't we pessimistic?

    And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. (13-14)

    In the closing couplet of the poem, we can see that the speaker isn't quite ready to give up. He's hopeful, though not confident, that his poetry will last into the future, and thus continue to praise the object of his affections. This doesn't mean that he thinks the "verse" will last forever, of course. In fact, you can almost interpret the reference to time's "cruel hand" as a kind of ominous "To be continued…" message. And if he's leaving the door open for a sequel, that doesn't necessarily mean good things to come.

  • Death

    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)

    Even though it appears to be talking mainly about time, there are already hints of death in the first quatrain of Shakespeare's poem. The most obvious hint comes in the use of the word "end" in Line 2, but we think that there might be another, earlier hint, in the use of the phrase "pebbled shore." Doesn't the idea of this final destination filled with stones make you think of a graveyard? Or is Shmoop just being morbid?

    Nativity, once in the main of light,
    Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
    Crookèd eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
    And time that gave doth now his gift confound. (5-8)

    Here, Shakespeare portrays death using tragic irony—because it strikes at exactly the moment when we feel most powerful, when we have "crawl[ed]" our way from "Nativity" up to "maturity." Bummer. The indignity of all this is brought home by the fact that the sun is blotted out by "eclipses" instead of simply setting, like it normally does. That ain't no way to go.

    Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
    And delves the parallels in beauty's brow, (9-10)

    In these lines, Shakespeare uses some especially harsh language and vivid imagery to convey just how much of a Bad Guy time really is. This amps up the emotion and gives us a stronger sense of how angry and despairing the speaker is.

    Time […]
    Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth, (9, 11)

    Now the emphasis is on the fact that time destroys even the best things in nature—the "rarities" can be thought of as things that are especially valuable, because they are rare. From the context, we can guess that he's probably not talking about things like gold and jewels, but rather something even more valuable: treasured fellow humans, who are all headed toward death at one point or another.

    And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow. (12)

    In Line 11, he was telling us how all the best things in nature die, thanks to time. Now he tells us that, in fact, everything that stands will be destroyed by time. Given the context of quatrain 3, which focuses mostly on agriculture and vegetation, it wouldn't be crazy to take stands as referring to things that grow, i.e. things that are alive. What can we say? Time's really an inclusive kind of guy.

    And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. (13-14)

    Here, the poet shows that death is not quite as all-powerful as it seems. Even though the poet himself will die, and so will the person he loves, the memory of both of them will live on in the poet's verse. The speaker isn't stupid enough to think they will live forever this way—the shadow cast by that last image of time's "cruel hand" rules this out—but he isn't going to stop hoping either.

  • Man and the Natural World

    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).

    Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
    And delves the parallels in beauty's brow, (9-10)

    Throughout quatrain 3, time acts as if it were a farmer… of humans. Could this also be designed to heighten the sense of time as unnatural and thus make it easier for the reader to hate this personified version? Or maybe Big Willy just had it out for farmers.

    And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. (13-14)

    Because humans create works of art—pretty much the definition of an unnatural activity—they are able to defy the natural processes of change and death. Win! This doesn't mean that "verse" makes anyone live forever, but it definitely is a weapon in humanity's arsenal. For more on this topic, check out our discussion of the theme of "Art and Culture."

  • Art and Culture

    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)

    In these lines, Shakespeare busts out some of his trademarked verbal trickery—and uses bad grammar to achieve an awesome poetic effect. When we first come to Line 3—"Each changing place with that which goes before,"—we think that this phrase is modifying the "minutes" described in the previous line. Once we get to Line 4, however, we realize that Line 3 could also be read as modifying "all." What does this have to do with the theme of art and culture? Well, by manipulating his language in this creative way, Shakespeare shows that human beings aren't just passive victims of nature and time. Instead, they are creative, and can use their artistic resources to depict nature—and their own thoughts and feelings—in new and interesting ways. Sure, maybe that's a stretch. But that's just the kind of stretch Big Willy would make.

    Nativity, once in the main of light,
    Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned, (5-6)

    These lines showcase the power of metaphor, which can magically transform part of human existence—the birth and development of a child—into something of cosmic significance: the rising of the sun.

    Crookèd eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
    And time that gave doth now his gift confound. (7-8)

    Just as poetic language and metaphor can make the successes of humans greater, by likening them to the actions of the cosmos, so they can make human failure seem nobler. Think about it: would you rather tell your friends, "I bombed my test because I didn't study" or "the sun of my glory was crookedly eclipsed by my teacher's malicious multiple choice queries"? Case closed.

    Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth,
    And delves the parallels in beauty's brow, (9-10)

    Did you know that the word culture actually comes from cultivation? Hmmmm. These lines, by drawing their metaphors from human agriculture, remind us of another way in which human art and culture transforms nature. Of course, the one doing the farming in these lines isn't a human being at all, but time. Why do you think Shakespeare chose to build in this ironic reversal of our expectations?

    Feeds on the rarities of nature's truth,
    And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow. (11-12)

    The ironic description of time the farmer continues, as humans find their own processes of farming and cultivation turned against them. Does this say anything about the power of human art in the broad sense—including technological development, and so on?

    And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
    Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand. (13-14)

    The last two lines of the poem bring us back to the most familiar sense of art, when the speaker refers to his verse. The speaker hopes to use art as a weapon against time and death, by preserving a memory of his beloved—and himself—for further generations. He doesn't claim that art is all-powerful—it's still under the gun of time's "cruel hand"—but at least it's something.