Sonnets for Advent 2: Sonnet 5

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AdventSonnet5The ‘lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell’ might seem like summer now, but winter is on its way, and the only way is to store up some of summer’s beauty is to distill it, presumably by having a child. ‘Sap checked with frost’ really does sounds as though winter as well as time is the great destroyer of beauty. It’s not clear in this sonnet whether the addressee is make or female; ‘bareness’ in the approximate centre of the poem, as Colin Burrow notes in his Oxford edition, could also mean ‘barrenness’, a word more associated with a womb perhaps. The metaphor for the child here is the ‘liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass’ in line 10; the child is like a rare and expensive scent, and one which will always remind the poet of the scent of the person he is addressing in the Sonnet.

Those hours, that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell
Will play the tyrants to the very same
And that unfair which fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness everywhere.
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor no remembrance what it was:
But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet,
Lose but their show, their substance still lives sweet.

Click below to hear Stanley Wells reading Sonnet 5.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson

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