Against that time, if ever that time come,
When I shall see thee frown on my defects,
When as thy love hath cast his utmost sum,
Call’d to that audit by advised respects;
Against that time when thou shalt strangely pass
And scarcely greet me with that sun thine eye,
When love, converted from the thing it was,
Shall reasons find of settled gravity,–
Against that time do I ensconce me here
Within the knowledge of mine own desert,
And this my hand against myself uprear,
To guard the lawful reasons on thy part:
To leave poor me thou hast the strength of laws,
Since why to love I can allege no cause.
The poet gazes into the future and foresees a time when love will have perished, and the beloved youth will pass him by with averted eyes, scarcely looking upon the one he so much cherished in the past. In advance the poet forgives him, and declares that he himself will take the witness stand against himself. Love has no rationality, and the poet himself cannot find reasons as to why the youth should love him, since beauty, worth, wealth and wit belong to the youth, not to the poet. Therefore he forgives him his eventual desertion in advance, and justifies it in legal and formal terms.
The number 49 was regarded by the Elizabethans as an important, even critical number, being the seventh multiple of seven. Seventh sons were looked upon with special awe, the seventh son of a seventh son even more so. They were thought to have special healing powers. A quack in James I time was prosecuted for claiming to cure ‘the evil’ by the Touch, but it was discovered that his father had had only six sons. (Shakespeare’s England, Oxford 1916, I.427.) Elizabeth’s survival past the grand climacteric, the 63rd year of her life, was thought to be almost miraculous.
One therefore expects that this sonnet would have some special significance, given that Shakespeare seems to have taken great care over the numerical arrangement of the sequence. Nos. 12 and 60 both relate to clocks, and the total number of sonnets dedicated to the youth is 126, exactly double the grand climacteric number (63). In fact the most striking fact is that this sonnet, 49, and 63, both begin with the same words, and both look to the future, and to the farewell sonnet No 126.
Against that time, if ever that time come, 49.
Against my love shall be as I am now 63.
Called to that audit by advis’d respects; 49.
Her audit though delayed answered must be, 126.
It is as though the poet wishes to summarise and encapsulate the history of his love in these few sonnets placed at a critical juncture in the series. He is submitting to an audit of his love and doing so before the final event of death and separation, the end of all things mortal, however eternal they might have seemed for the moment, or in the glorious bravado of some of the eternising sonnets of the series.