Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-liv’d Phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one more heinous crime:
O, carve not with the hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen!
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do thy worst, old Time! Despite thy wrong
My love shall in my verse ever live young.
Again the poet declares the prospect of immortality for the youth through his verse. Not only will he live forever, but he will be eternally young, and the ravages of time will not touch him. Time will instead do the conventional damage which is customary and known to all, killing sweetness and beauty everywhere. And, despite a temporary prohibition, which the poet then abandons, time will proceed on its usual course, and even do its worst against the youth, the poet’s love. Yet despite this the youth will survive in the verses made to celebrate his beauty and the poet’s love for him.
The two declarations of love are important, because some commentators claim that sonnet 20 marks a change of direction in the poet’s attitude to the young man. In fact the change has already occurred, in 10, 13, and 15 before it is repeated here.
Make thee another self, for love of me, 10
O, none but unthrifts! Dear my love, you know
You had a father: let your son say so. 13
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new. 15