Treatment of Time in Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Time holds a significant place in Shakespeare’s Sonnets, serving as a recurring motif that shapes the experiences, emotions, and relationships portrayed within the poems. The exploration of time in the Sonnets allows readers to delve into the complexities of human existence and contemplate the transient nature of life. Understanding how Shakespeare addresses time provides insights into the poet’s philosophical musings, his perception of mortality, and his thoughts on love and immortality.

In this blog post, we will delve into the treatment of time in William Shakespeare’s Sonnets. By analyzing specific sonnets, we will uncover the different perspectives and interpretations of time presented by the poet. We will also analyze the relationship between the treatment of time and the treatment of nature in his sonnets. From time as a destructive force, erasing youth and beauty, to time as a means of immortality through art and love, and even as a transformative agent influencing relationships and personal growth, Shakespeare’s Sonnets offer a rich exploration of the multifaceted nature of time.

Through this exploration, we will gain a deeper appreciation for the thematic richness and enduring relevance of these timeless poetic works.

Time as a Destructive Force

Shakespeare’s Sonnets delve into the fleeting nature of time, portraying it as a destructive force that erases beauty and youth. In Sonnet 12, the speaker reflects on time’s relentless passage and its ability to envelop the world in darkness. Sonnet 60 likens time to the ceaseless waves reaching the shore, underscoring the ephemeral nature of human life.

Furthermore, Sonnet 19 personifies Time as a devourer, emphasizing its capacity to erode beauty and strength. Sonnet 73 employs vivid metaphors of changing seasons and falling leaves to depict the inevitable effects of aging. Collectively, these sonnets convey the transient and destructive power of time in human existence.

The fleeting nature of time

In Sonnet 12, the speaker contemplates time’s destructive power with the following lines:

“When I do count the clock that tells the time,

And see the brave day sunk in hideous night.”

Sonnet 12

This imagery portrays time as a relentless force, ushering in darkness and obliterating the light of day. The use of “hideous night” emphasizes the inevitability of time’s destructive passage.

Sonnet 60 explores the fleeting nature of time through the following lines:

“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end.”

Sonnet 60

Here, the poet compares the waves inexorably reaching the shore to the swift passage of human life. The sonnet’s message on mortality and transience is encapsulated in the phrase “our minutes hasten to their end,” reminding us that time is constantly slipping away.

Time as an eraser of beauty and youth

In Sonnet 19, the speaker personifies Time as a devourer with the plea “Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws.” By likening Time to a predator, Shakespeare conveys the idea that time relentlessly erodes beauty and strength, even symbolized by the mighty lion’s paws. The speaker’s plea reflects the desire to preserve youth and resist the destructive effects of time.

Sonnet 73 uses metaphor and imagery to vividly depict aging, with lines such as:

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang.”

Sonnet 73

By comparing himself to the changing seasons and falling leaves, the speaker emphasizes the impermanence of youth and the gradual fading of life’s vitality. The sonnet’s reflection on the inevitability of time’s effects emphasizes the transient nature of human existence.

Time as a Means of Immortality

Shakespeare’s Sonnets explore the preservation of beauty through poetry, aiming to defy time’s passage and achieve immortality. In Sonnet 18, the speaker’s poetic tribute to their beloved becomes an enduring testament to eternal beauty. Sonnet 55 emphasizes the everlasting nature of poetry, surpassing the transience of grand monuments.

Additionally, love is presented as a means to transcend time, as depicted in Sonnet 116, where true love perseveres against the challenges posed by time. Sonnet 138 delves into the complexities of love, acknowledging deceit while exploring its ability to navigate the temporal realm. These sonnets collectively convey the power of art and love in defying the limitations of time, offering glimpses of immortality in the realm of human emotions.

Preservation of beauty through poetry

In Sonnet 18, the speaker attempts to immortalize their beloved through poetry with the famous line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” By crafting verses that capture the beloved’s beauty and essence, the speaker believes they can defy the ravages of time. This sonnet explores the power of art to transcend the limitations of time, as the poem itself becomes a lasting tribute to the eternal beauty of the beloved.

Sonnet 55 delves into the enduring power of poetry, stating,

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments

Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme.”

Sonnet 55

The sonnet emphasizes that even grand structures like marble statues or elaborate monuments will eventually crumble, but poetry possesses an everlasting quality. The speaker’s belief in the longevity of verse suggests that through poetry, one can achieve a form of immortality by capturing emotions, thoughts, and experiences that transcend time.

Love as a means to transcend time

Sonnet 116 presents a definition of true love, asserting,

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments.”

Sonnet 116

The sonnet expresses the idea that love is an unwavering force that can conquer the passage of time and endure all obstacles. It explores the concept of love as a transcendent experience that unites two souls beyond the constraints of mortality.

Sonnet 138 acknowledges the presence of deceit within love, with the following lines:

“When my love swears that she is made of truth,

I do believe her though I know she lies.”

Sonnet 138

Despite the acknowledgment of deception, the sonnet delves into love’s ability to navigate the challenges of time and the complexities of human relationships. It suggests that love has the power to transcend the temporal realm, allowing individuals to find connection and solace amidst the ever-changing nature of life.

Time as a Transformative Agent

Shakespeare’s Sonnets delve into the impact of time on relationships and personal growth. Sonnet 64 explores how time alters relationships, as age diminishes the grandeur of individuals. Sonnet 116 acknowledges the changes brought by time but asserts that genuine love remains steadfast.

Additionally, Sonnet 29 reflects on personal struggles and the transformative power of time, while Sonnet 123 challenges the notion of being solely defined by time, highlighting individual agency in shaping one’s destiny. Collectively, these sonnets examine time as a catalyst for change, prompting us to reflect on the evolving nature of relationships and the transformative potential within ourselves.

Time’s Impact on Relationships

Sonnet 64 explores the effect of time on relationships with the following lines:

“When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced

The rich-proud cost of outworn buried age.”

Sonnet 64

This sonnet reflects on how time can alter the dynamics of relationships, as age and the passing years can diminish the vigor and grandeur of once proud individuals. The sonnet delves into the theme of loss and how time’s influence can shape the way we perceive and experience connections with others.

Similarly, Sonnet 116, while celebrating the endurance of true love, also acknowledges the changes that time can bring to relationships.

“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come”

Sonnet 116

The above lines suggest that time’s passing may alter physical appearances, but genuine love remains steadfast. This sonnet emphasizes that while time may affect the external aspects of relationships, true love can withstand the test of time.

Time as a Catalyst for Personal Growth

In Sonnet 29, the speaker contemplates personal struggles and the transformative power of time with the following lines:

“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,

I all alone beweep my outcast state.”

Sonnet 29

The sonnet explores how moments of adversity can lead to personal growth and inner strength. It reflects on how time and the passage of experience can alter one’s perspective and bring about positive change in one’s life.

Similarly, Sonnet 123 challenges the conventional glorification of time. The line “No! Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change” express the speaker’s refusal to be defined solely by the changes brought by time. The sonnet explores the idea that personal growth and individuality can resist time’s influence, suggesting that people have agency in shaping their own destinies.

These sonnets highlight time as a transformative agent, impacting both relationships and personal growth. They portray time as an inevitable force that shapes human experiences and emotions. Yet, the poems also emphasize the potential for resilience, growth, and individual agency in the face of time’s influence. Shakespeare’s exploration of time’s transformative nature prompts us to reflect on our own experiences and the ways in which time shapes our lives and relationships. These sonnets encourage us to embrace change, appreciate growth, and find strength amidst life’s evolving journey.

The Relationship between Time and Nature

The relationship between time and nature in Shakespeare’s Sonnets is deeply intertwined. The sonnets draw upon the imagery and symbolism of the natural world to explore the passage of time and its effects on human existence. In Sonnet 18, the speaker compares the beloved to a summer’s day, emphasizing the transient quality of life with the line, “And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” Similarly, Sonnet 73 likens the speaker’s aging process to the changing seasons, stating, “In me thou seest the twilight of such day.”

Nature itself serves as a symbol of time’s power in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Sonnet 60 employs the imagery of waves making their way to the pebbled shore, illustrating the ceaseless movement of time. The sonnet states,

“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So do our minutes hasten to their end.”

Sonnet 60

This comparison signifies the ever-progressing nature of time and its impact on human lives.

Furthermore, time’s influence on natural beauty is a recurring theme in the sonnets. Sonnet 12 contemplates the fading of beauty over time, using imagery associated with the ticking clock and the passing hours. The sonnet states,

“When I do count the clock that tells the time,

And see the brave day sunk in hideous night.”

Sonnet 12

Here, time’s destructive power is vividly conveyed as the day transitions into darkness.

Lastly, time and the inevitability of natural decay are intertwined in Sonnet 73. The speaker reflects on their twilight years and uses natural imagery to convey the acceptance of mortality and the cyclical nature of life. The sonnet states,

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang.”

Sonnet 73

This metaphorical portrayal of the speaker as the autumnal season reflects the inevitable decline and eventual passing of life.

Through these sonnets, Shakespeare highlights the interconnectedness of time and nature, using nature as a lens to contemplate the fleeting, transient, and transformative nature of human existence in the face of time’s relentless march. The quotations chosen provide a glimpse into the profound relationship between time and nature portrayed in Shakespeare’s Sonnets.


Shakespeare’s Sonnets present a profound and multifaceted treatment of time that continues to resonate with readers. Through the exploration of time as a destructive force, a means of immortality, and a transformative agent, these timeless verses offer deep insights into the human experience. The sonnets’ eloquent language and vivid imagery captivate readers, urging them to reflect on the fleeting nature of life, the enduring power of love and art, and the potential for personal growth.

The enduring relevance of these sonnets lies in their ability to transcend time and speak to the universal themes of love, mortality, and the passage of time. As we engage with these poetic gems, we are reminded to cherish the present, embrace change, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. Shakespeare’s Sonnets stand as a testament to the timeless nature of poetry and its capacity to illuminate the complexities of life.

In conclusion, the treatment of time in Shakespeare’s Sonnets serves as an invitation for readers to contemplate their own existence and the significance of the moments that shape their lives. These verses inspire us to seek meaning and connection in a world governed by the ticking clock, encouraging us to find solace, beauty, and love amidst the constant flux of time.

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