Sonnets for Advent 16: Sonnet 60

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In one very obvious way this sonnet stands as a reminder that Shakespeare’s collection of sonnets, written it seems over many years, cannot be easily made to fit a pre-determined biographical way of reading. That’s because Sonnet 60 is inspired by Shakespeare’s favourite Roman writer, Ovid, specifically Metamorphoses, Book XV, lines 178-85. Sonnet 60 is a literary exercise. This should give us reason to pause before claiming that, for example, ‘the first 126 sonnets are all addressed to a young man’.

Time to let go of tired assumptions about these remarkable poems and experience them afresh, like waves breaking on the shore, like the ‘rarities of nature’s truth.’

Today’s sonnet is read by Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E.

Sonnet 60
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.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned
Crooked eclipses ’gainst his glory fight,
And time that gave doth now his gift confound.
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.
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand,
Praising thy worth despite his cruel hand.

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Listen to the same sonnet being read by a student at the University of Tubingen by clicking here.

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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
  • Ed Boswell

    It should be noted that the source material, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, was translated into english by Edward de Vere’s maternal uncle, Arthur Golding.

  • Bruce Leyland

    Thanks for Sonnet 60. I agree with your point about assumptions concerning the sequencing of the sonnets. Here, as with Sonnet 12 (which echoes the 12 hours of the clock), and Sonnet 8 (which plays on musical harmony cf. the octave), Shakespeare selects the number of the Sonnet to echo the content (i.e. the 60 “minutes hasten to their end”). We might also look at solemn feasts of Sonnet 52 “in the long year set”… Paul, you would be familiar with the Lectionary that outlines the weekly observance of these feasts on the Sabbath. There may be a few more subtle examples…

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