When I do count the clock that tells the time
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silver'd o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard;
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake,
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
In the first quatrain:
- Time rappresent the nature
- The day rappresent tha young people
- The night rappresent the old people
The sonnet's meaning is contained, as is usual in Shakespeare, in the final rhymed couplet: nothing can oppose time's destructive power except marriage and procreation.
The first two "When"-quatrains describe the passing of time in a progression that from the image of the clock-dial in line 1 reaches the more elaborate metaphor of lines 7-8. The images became images of death for the passing of time. To counteract death's levelling action, anex life needs to be created.