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Analysis of William Shakespeare's Sonnet #15 "When I consider every thing that grows"

Analysis of William Shakespeare's Sonnet #15 "When I consider every thing that grows"


The speaker in Sonnet 15 wants the young man to procreate, but it seems like the speaker is losing hope that that will happen, so he has decided to immortalize him through verse. There is a sense of urgency in this sonnet, Time looms over everything. The speaker wants the young man to realize that time is fleeting; humans only exist for a short period of time, and if you don't use your time wisely (i.e. procreating) then all traces of you will vanish.William Shakespeare's Sonnets are divided up into three parts: sonnets 1 through 17 celebrate the beauty of a young man, and urge him to procreate; sonnets 18-126 focus on the destructive power of time, which can only be countered by love and the permanence of poetry; sonnets 127-154 focus on the "Dark Lady," who is an object of desire. It is uncertain if these sonnets are in their correct order, because Shakespeare did not oversee their publishing. Shakespeare plays with various moods of delight, pride, melancholy, shame, disgust, and fear. The sonnets usually follow the abab cdcd efef gg rhyme scheme, except for Sonnet 3, which is abab cdcd dede dd. They have three quatrains, where each may develop their own metaphor, and a rhyming couplet, which may either confirm or pull sharply against what has come before it.

The speaker mulls over the idea that everything that grows on earth only holds its perfection (i.e. youth) for a short time; everything will eventually grow old and die. The "huge stage" is life, and life presents nothing but shows; each person's life is like a small show/production-it begins and eventually comes to an end. The stars are the ones that get to watch these plays, and in secret they comment on theme; it's almost like they are the ones that judge you-did you like a good moral life?; did you make the most out of your brief time on earth?

The second quatrain introduces an elaborate simile that compares the stages of plant growth to that of the human stages of life. Men like plants increase; men and plants are "cheered" (instill courage) and "checked" (to slow or bring to a stop) all by the same sky. "Vaunt" means to make a vain display of one's own worth. "Sap" is a pun, it means both to be foolish, and it is the fluid part of a plant. Once they reach their peak of brilliance (for plants their flower blooms) then it is a slow decent into death. They wear their brave (handsome, well-dressed) state in their memory, meaning that as they get older man likes to remember the good-old-days when they were at the peak of life.

The simile in the second quatrain is carried on into the third quatrain. The speaker is telling the young man that he is wasting his youth. The young man is rich is youth and beauty, but he wastes his time with frivolous things. Time may give him youth and beauty, but Decay will eventually win, and he will die. "Sullied" means soiled or blackened; so night means death. Also, at night flowers (even when they are fully blossomed) close up and protect themselves from the cold of night, and then re-blossom when the sun comes out.




The speaker declares war on Time; he will immortalize the young man in verse since the young man has chosen not to create his immortality in the form of an heir. "Ingraft" (engraft), in this sonnet, means to give the young man a rebirth of sorts by writing down his legacy in verse form.
The young man is not the only one that gets immortalized by writing this sonnet; the speaker and the author (assuming that they are not the same person) are also immortalized, and isn't it the goal of every writer for their work to live on forever, giving their life meaning. I feel like when something is immortalized it makes death less scary; you will be remembered and cherished by everyone for the rest of time.

Sources

Shakespeare, William. 15." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century/The Early Seventeenth Century. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006. 1063.

Published on July 16, 2014 by Sophia Brookshire © All Rights Reserved

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