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 every where:
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 distill’d, though they with winter meet,
Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
This and the following sonnet are written as a pair.
The poet laments the progress of the years, which will play havoc with the young man’s beauty. Human life is like the seasons, spring, summer, autumn’s maturity and fruition, followed by hideous winter. Nothing is left of summer’s beauty except for that which the careful housewife preserves, the essence of roses and other flowers distilled for their perfume. Other than that there is no remembrance of things beautiful. But once distilled, the substance of beauty is always preserved. therefore the youth should consider how his beauty might be best distilled.