Sonnets for Advent 3: Sonnet 12

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Photo: Bridgeman Art Gallery

I love the way you can hear to tick-tock of the clock through the opening line, the visions of autumn this sonnet conjures up in the mind’s eye, and even the ruined crop being carried away on a cart, like a funeral bier…

Sonnet 12 is read by my colleague and actor, Christopher Harvey.

Sonnet 12
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 ensilvered 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 they 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.

The sound and shape of this sonnet can be heard in John Keats’s sonnet beginning ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’

Find out more about Shakespeare’s Sonnets via our free on-line course www.gettingtoknowshakespeare.com

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

You might like to treat yourself to The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s own, exclusive edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, edited by our Honorary President, Professor Stanley Wells C.B.E., and beautifully printed by Oxford University Press. Find out more 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
  • Bruce Leyland

    Thanks for Sonnet 12. As with Sonnet 8, Shakespeare clearly selects the number of the Sonnet to echo the content – underscored by “count” and “tells” (counts) in line 1.

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