Against my love shall be, as I am now,
With Time’s injurious hand crush’d and o’er-worn;
When hours have drain’d his blood and fill’d his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travell’d on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanish’d out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.
Having regained his equilibrium once more, after some insane attacks of jealousy, the poet devotes himself again to the question of the youth’s mortality and the ravages of time against all things beautiful. What, he wonders, may be attempted as a means of holding Time’s swift foot back and restraining his despoliation of beauty?
That is the theme of this and the next two sonnets. Here and in 65 the hope is expressed that the black lines of this verse will provide a form of immortality. In the intervening sonnet, 64, nothing is suggested as a palliative, and the only remedy is to weep for what one is destined soon to lose.
It is worth noting the personal element in these three sonnets. Time is not only the universal arch-destroyer, but, what seems even more heinous, he will cut away my sweet love’s beauty, my lover’s life, he will come and take my love away, he will snatch away Time’s best jewel (i.e. my beloved) and if my love shall still shine bright despite all this destruction, it will only be through some miracle yet unknown. Each of the three sonnets passes from the universality of wasteful Time’s depravity, which attacks and crushes individuals, wrecks cities, eats up the land, consumes brass and eternal monuments, destroys the flowers of the summer as well as gates of steel and the stoutest rocks, and then turns its attention to my sweet love’s beauty, my love, and Time’s best jewel. So all things that are mortal fade and soon are no more to be seen. What is the solution? To what must one turn to avoid this destruction and loss? Is it to the immortality of verse? Or should one simply weep and acknowledge that everything which we possess is as a death which continues to weep but must dissipate itself eventually into the great sea of mortality?
This sonnet shares the same opening words as sonnet 49. The numbers of the two are important, as they are climacteric numbers, and were for the Elizabethans crucial years in a person’s life. The astrologers were deeply concerned for Elizabeth’s welfare in her 63rd year and foretold numerous disasters. She died in her next climacteric year at the age of 70. (See the notes to sonnet 81 for a fuller discussion).